8-24-12 9:11  •  Park Bench Activism

Exercising some free speech at the public library park. I borrowed a slogan from VP Joe Biden which I'm hoping might be effective around here.

For the record, I actually do not agree with extrajudicial killings or with bailing out failed corporations. But this is what the country wanted, and Obama unquestionably delivered it.

8-23-12 12:11  •  Creation

AzalieFlowers: Does your religion have a creation story? Will you share?

I'd be happy to, thank you so much for asking!  Here, liberally cribbed from YouTube science videos, is the current creation story for my religion, Neoism:


Long ago, there was no time, no space, no energy, and no matter.  Then, approximately 13.7 billion years ago, a bubble much smaller than a fraction of an atom formed.  Within it, the four known forces of nature  - gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and the weak nuclear forces - were a combined "super-force."   Gravity suddenly split off from the super-force as the universe expanded. Less than a second later the bubble inflated and cooled, and the remaining super-force decayed into the separate forces we know today.  

380,000 years later, light began to travel through the darkness. This is the cosmic background radiation that we can still see and measure today.   About a billion years out, the stars begin to take shape, producing the heavier elements like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon.

About nine billion years out, matter and gravity combined to form the beginnings of a particular star. Pressure created heat at its core. This heat triggered thermonuclear fusion.  Stellar outflow cleared away residual gases, until only a circumstellar disc of dust remained, which eventually accreted into an entourage of planets and moons.

One of these lumps of star dust, after being pummeled for eons by residual solar debris, had temperatures warm enough to allow water to build up in the atmosphere.

Liquid water gathered on the planet's surface.  Under the water, chemical reactions formed and re-formed peptides, nucleotides and amino acids, until some very complex molecules emerged - molecules that could make copies of themselves faster than they could be destroyed.   These eventually became the first living cells.

3.5 billion years ago, some cells began to use the sun's energy directly, through photosynthesis.  The  waste product of this process, oxygen, combined with other gasses to form the ozone layer.  Once shielded by the ozone from ultraviolet solar radiation, life became unstoppable, slowly growing more complex through a process of trial and error.  Life became so widespread that every drop of water contained masses of single-cell organisms.

800 million years ago, multicellular forms began to appear.  At first they were just groups of identical cells, but eventually the some of the cells started to specialize for different purposes.   Some specialized into muscle and nerve cells, allowing the organisms to bend, stretch and flex.

600 million years ago, an ancient flat worm was the first animal to develop a centralized nervous system. It had nerve cells running the length of its body, with much a higher concentration of nerve cells at one end - the first primitive brain.   This was the first animal with a head, and photon-reactive cells in the head were the world's first eyes.  This creature could recognize the intensity and direction of light.

For about 100 million more years, sponges, anemones and flatworms dominated the oceans.  Then, over the course of about 30 million years, these simple creatures diverged and developed in a huge number of different kinds of life.  The large numbers and great variety created competition for food, causing both predator and prey to become extremely sophisticated.  Every animal group alive today had its origin in this era - the Cambrian Explosion.

500 million years ago the first fish appeared.   They developed bony protections for the spinal chord, and jaws with teeth.

400 million years ago, the land surface of the earth was covered with green.  Those photosynthesizing cells had spread into fresh water and eventually on to land.   Once they were established, animals soon followed.  Among the first land animals were centipedes, who developed a primitive lung and skin which could retain moisture.  Some shallow-water fish developed fins which worked for pushing across a surface, and soon were able to join the insects going ashore, at least part-time.

370 million years ago, the first amphibians emerged from the swamps.  Their soft, moist skins absorbed oxygen and simple lungs allowed them to breathe air.   The exertion of hauling themselves over land required lots of fuel, but the early flightless insects made easy prey.  Many amphibians came to live on land because food was so plentiful, but they had to remain in damp places because of their delicate skin.

Some of the creatures developed tougher, water-proof skins and tougher-shelled eggs.  These were the first reptiles.  Now they could live and breed in dry places.   But because of their walking gate, and because their lungs could not expand, they easily became breathless.  So some developed longer legs and more flexible lung capacity.  For the next 160 million years, the land would be dominated by these new creatures - dinosaurs.

While the dinosaurs spread out over the land, becoming the dominant form, one small reptile group hung on in the background, eventually developing hair and digging burrows to live in.  They laid eggs, but the young were very immature and so they had to be fed from special milk glands on the mother's stomach.   These would become the first mammals.

65 million years ago, a ten-mile-wide meteor struck the Gulf of Mexico with the force of 10 billion Hiroshima bombs.   Catastrophic climate change followed, ending the reign of the dinosaurs.  It took the earth millions of years to recover, and when it did, the dinosaurs were gone forever.   Many things had changed - the earth grew hotter, and massive rain forests sprang up on every continent.  The top predators were the direct descendants of the dinosaurs - the birds.

Mammals too had changed, diversifying into a variety of forms.  Over the next 40 million years, they colonized almost every part of the planet.  Their great strength was their ability to adapt.  Some grew huge in size, many became fierce predators, and others re-claimed the oceans.

Then, around six or seven million years ago, in Africa, the first of our ancestors emerged who are not an ancestor of any other living creature - the hominids.  They were probably bipeds.   Many hominid forms followed, from the Australopithecines to Homo Habilis of 1.9 million years ago, the first creature ever found with tools.  They changed and adapted and eventually came to look like Homo Ergaster, from 500,000 years ago.

Over this time, some of our ancient relatives left Africa, spreading to many parts of Europe and Asia, discovering fire, tools, and clothes. The human species evolved and multiplied.  But, due to climate changes, almost all died out except the ones who stayed in Africa.  200,000 years ago, in East Africa, there lived a woman who is the ancestor of all modern humans. 

80,000 years ago, severe climate again reduced the human population, this time to fewer than 10,000.  They were scattered throughout Africa in small groups.  One group, living on the east coast, attempted the ten-mile journey over sea to what is now Yemen.   They were successful, and every non-African person today is descended from this group.

Some stayed in Yemen, while others moved east along the coast.  Six thousand years later, humans had found their way to Malaysia.   They adapted to rain-forest conditions, developing lighter skin and shorter stature.

74,000 years ago, a giant volcanic eruption plunged much of the world into six years of ash-covered darkness.  Once again, our ancestors had to move to survive.  Sea levels were lower, so humans were able to move throughout the islands of southeast asia and cross shallow seas to colonize Australia.

For 30,000 years, harsh deserts blocked the passage from Yemen to Europe, but a favorable climate shift finally brought rain.   Rivers swelled, game animals moved north, and our ancestors followed.

50,000 years ago, our ancestors found their way to Germany.  But, presumably to their surprise, they found people already there.  Neanderthals, evolved from a group who migrated from Africa 250,000 years previously, were now the masters of Europe.  Though they had brains fully as large as modern humans, they did not survive the contact, and soon became extinct, except perhaps passing some DNA to us through interbreeding. 

By 35,000 years ago, our ancestors were creating art.  By 25,000 ago, groups migrated across the Bering Straight to populate North America.  A new Ice Age eventually forced humans down to South America.

10,000 years ago, humans began to master herding, agriculture and metallurgy.  Civilizations arose like those in Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, Greece, the Americas, India, Sumeria and China.  From those civilizations to our own is now a matter of history.

1,000 years ago, Chinese astronomers observed the first recorded supernova.   About 130 years ago, Mendeleev arranged the elements made in stars into the periodic table. About 100 years ago, Thompson discovered the electron.  Rutherford discovered the nucleus, and Bohr put together the first detailed description of the atom.   About 80 years ago, physicists found protons inside the nucleus, and about 70 years ago Chadwick discovered the neutron.

About 30 years ago, Murray Gelmon theorized the existence of quarks, which were confirmed in 1995.  Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic background radiation, and 10 years ago, an experiment detected ripples in the background radiation, confirming inflation.  And just last month, experimental evidence was revealed for the Higgs boson, confirming that the Standard Model does accurately describe the mechanisms of our universe.

Which brings us up to now.


This is the current story of our creation, as discovered by humans through direct examination of reality.  I find this story to be by far the most interesting, uplifting and spiritually sustaining creation story every told, not least because it can be demonstrated to be true.

The central requirement of Neoism is that all of the religion, including the creation story, be derived from the truth, to the best of our ability to determine it.   This means that as our knowledge of the universe grows, if any part of this story is found to be untrue, it will need to be swapped out and replaced with a more demonstrably true description.  It also means telling the truth about another important fact: that some things about our creation remain - for the moment, anyway - unknown.

As the scope of our ability to discern expands, the story will almost certainly need to be updated to reflect our understanding.  This is why my religion is called "Neoism" - because in this way it will always be "new."

8-22-12 11:11  •  Being Gay is Not Wrong

Debbie: Homosexuality is just plain wrong! It's against God. The bible says so.

I was curious. Some people say homosexuality is wrong. Is it? I wanted to find out. So, I looked.

The first thing I discovered is that what ancient people said about homosexuality is not important. What could they possibly have known about it back then that we, today, cannot determine for ourselves? Their opinions are not dispositive.

I discovered that if you want to know if something is wrong, you can examine it. What is it? Where does it occur? What happens as a result? Does it serve a purpose? I examined what there is to know about homosexuality from a scientific study of it, and also observed what homosexual people are like, and what they want.

The result of my examination is that homosexuality is normal and naturally occurring in a significant portion of the population. It is not a pathology, or in any way indicative of illness or deviance. It is not a form of wrongdoing. Many different kinds of arrangements exist in nature which ensure that not all adults become part of a reproductive pair, and homosexuality appears to be the same kind of evolutionary adaptation.

What's more, homosexual people are not different in their basic wants from anyone else - to form relationships and build a lifetime of mutual bonds. There is no observable reason on this earth why they should be prohibited from doing this.

Whether it can be construed as "for" or "against," it does not matter what the Bible, or other any other ancient tradition, says about homosexuality. I can see for myself that it is not wrong. If God Himself came along and tried to tell me it was wrong, I would say, "Have you checked?"

8-22-12 9:01  •  Government in Heaven

Mary: God's Kingdom is soon to be here on earth as it is in heaven right now. Way better than human rule we have now, what do you think?

Depends on the type of rule. Totalitarian dictatorship is a form of human rule which sucks. Democratic Republic isn't too bad, if you can keep the capitalists in check, and self-rule appears to be far more condusive to human well-being than any other form which has been tried.

Perhaps the afterlife will be an anarcho-syndicalist commune, where we each take it in turn to act as a sort of executive officer of the week. But all the decisions of that officer must be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting, by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in case of more....well, you get the idea.


Listen -- strange gods hanging around in burning bushes distributing commandments is no basis for a system of celestial government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical flaming ceremony.

You can't expect to wield supreme celestial executive power just 'cause some sheep herder was impressed by your magic act!

What if I went around sayin' I was king of bleeding heaven just because some lamb fancier had chiseled my blathering into stone? They'd put me away!

And don't get me started about claiming to be a prince of peace while damning people and destroying satan. Now we see the violence inherent in the system.

Oh, what a give away. Do you see? You do see that, eh? That's what I'm on about -- do you see how they are repressing all opposition to the system?

8-21-12 10:01  •  Spiritual Blindness

Lushpuppy:Some peope are color blind and some are spiritually blind also...

I disagree that colorblindness is analogous to "spiritual blindness."

It is very easy to demonstrate to a colorblind person that there really is information in an image which he is not able to see. You can simply encode a message in the color dot patterns. A colorblind person cannot see the message, but they can observe that any normally-sighted person, even a total stranger pulled off the street, can read it easily. Every person who is normally sighted and can read will be able to perceive the exact same message. This would not be possible unless there was an actual message there in the dots to be read.

If there was some information out there which only the "spiritually sighted" were able to perceive, even if the "spiritually blind" could not see the information, there would be readily recognizable evidence that the information does exist and can be consistently observed by anyone who possesses the functioning sense.

Instead, information acquired through "spiritual sight" is so inconsistent that no two religions, or even any two sects, or even any two religious people, can agree on what their "spiritual sense" tells them. The same exact methods - prayer, scripture reading, consulting the Divine inner voice, etc - are used by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. - and yet each of their spiritual senses is telling them drastically different messages. For example, Muslim "spiritual sight" is actually demonic levels of spiritual blindness, according to Christianity.

Lushpuppy:Different things can be irrational to different people.

No. The entire point of reason is that it reliably produces accurate conclusions which do not differ by personal proclivities. There is no "Muslim calculus" which produces different answers from "Christian calculus." There is just calculus, which works the same for everyone who tries it. Reason is a similar logical system.

7-18-12 1:25  •  This is Speech Too

7-18-12 12:25  •  This is Speech

I decided to exercise some First Amendment free speech. The kids helped a bit with these.

7-15-12 7:25  •  Is This Speech?

 Chalk artists harassed and arrested 

Is this speech? Well of course I think it is.

Here is a conversation I had with a lawyer friend about it (not to be construed as legal advice):

My post:

Members of the Occupy L.A. movement, with the support of some homeless rights advocates, used pastel chalk to express their anger about gentrification in downtown and how, in their view, it was pushing the poor out.

More here.

So is sidewalk chalk vandalism? Or is it an expression of free speech?

Lawsie: I had to look up the law that applies to decide. It is both speech and vandalism.

Well, which is the operative principle...does this mean people should go ahead and chalk, or refrain?

Lawsie: I'm happy to comment.

The first step is to determine whether the message is protected speech. In this case, political messages are the epitome of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect. This is protected speech.

Next, you look at the rules or the application of the rules. If your local ordinance does not include sidewalk art in vandalism definitions, then there is no time, place and manner restriction against drawing absolutely anything that is not obscene on the sidewalk.

If they are allowing flowers, but not Vote Obama 2012, then that is a "content based" rule. Content-based rules are presumed unconstitutional under most circumstances.

You've done the first step by inquiring of your Parks & Rec board. If they say that sidewalk chalk IS allowed, then we know that sidewalk chalk in and of itself is not "defacing." I would go a step farther and look up the ordinance to make sure.

If political messages are treated differently than flowers, then you have an unconstitutional application of a law. They are imposing a "content based" restriction. This is likely unconstitutional.

As an alternative, they could restrict political drawings to a certain part of the sidewalk, or require a permit for any and all chalk drawings.

It is my opinion that requiring Occupy to smudge their drawings was unconstitutional. If the artists had stood their ground and been cited, the accused could have argued unconstutional application of the law.

In a nutshell, the city can consitutionally

1) allow all non-obscene drawings on any sidewalk,

2) refuse to allow anyone to draw anything on any sidewalk anywhere, or

3) limit all drawings to certain sidewalks, require a permit, or some other limit based on something other than the content.

I hope that makes sense.

Thank you so much!!

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