Sunday, December 28, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
When we look at the last two centuries of history, we're shocked at the antiquated moral and ethical beliefs the majority of the population held. Slavery for example was widely accepted and quotes from the Bible were used to justify the need to treat certain people as non-human property. There were many moral progressives, ranging from Quakers to enlightened Northerners who continued arguing for emancipation, even with the majority of people supporting enslavement. As time wore on and our sensibilities evolved, the majority came to realize that slavery was unjust. It still took a civil war, and a hundred subsequent years before the laws were changed to allow for universal equality between the races. As we progressed towards greater racial tolerance, we rightfully pressured those who still maintained archaic beliefs. When the South African government mandated Apartheid, the West was vehemently opposed, and through decades of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, we succeeded in ushering democratic changes. Still, it took many years before the sentiment had changed for the majority of Americans to suspend their racial divisiveness and elect the first black president. Yet, moral victory for the majority cannot be overwhelmingly claimed unless the climate of fear, and racial intolerance becomes even further diluted. To this day, there are a large number of seemingly enlightened and progressive people who still believe in racial inferiority, often missing the underlying socioeconomic factors, among other things. They refuse do acknowledge the vast non-biological cultural differences among peoples of the worlds, and use their preconceived notions of superiority to render peoples of different races as inferior. Lately, with greater genetic tools at our disposal, we're able to probe into the various genetic differences among human beings, and ultimately uncover the inherent bias in our thoughts of race. As it turns out, genetically, there is no indicator of human race. In other words, by looking at one's DNA, there are no categories that are shared across the board by what we consider a race. Beyond just modern racial superiority, many still hold quiet reservations regarding potential presidential candidates. Would the outcome have been different if both of Barack Obama's parents were black? Would it have changed things if Barack Obama had attended a few Friday prayers at a mosque? These inherent fears are still open sores even among the majority who elected him.
Moving beyond racial intolerance, there are other civil rights issues that are similarly moving at an uncomfortable snail's pace. As the recent California gay marriage ban initiative indicated, there is still enough traditional marriage sentiment in California to override the progressive laws there were passed by the legislature. The anger, hatred, and injustise that the supporters of gay marriage felt in California boiled over to public demonstrations, lawsuits, and violent threats against those perceived as limiting the civil liberties of certain groups. The irony of course is that the majority of African-Americans chose to support the ban. With all this said, we have to come to terms with the system that we have. Regardless of the ethical and moral views that one takes on this issue, the fact is that the majority, no matter how small, chose to maintain traditional heterosexual marriage. One can argue the lack of moral decency, and ethical responsibilities, but because we rely on our system of government to maintain certain democratically held beliefs which protect us, we must also accept that it may cause discontent in other ways. Again, it must be emphasized that education is the only way to garner support for controversial progressive issues. Timing is key, and there will come a time and place (such as Conneticut at the moment), when society at large is ready to accept marriage regardless of sexual orientation.
The drawbacks to Democracy becomes most realized when the population's level of education drops. As voters become ignorant and less savvy about the world, their voices become harmful to the direction of national progress. Democracy works best when the majority are educated, and truly understand the issues at large. When George W. Bush was elected for a second term, the disbelief among the enlightened should have been unfounded. Many people, through fear, and a lack of global understanding, had let themselves become influenced by misinformation, outright lies, and, clever propaganda. Few could differentiate between Al-Qaida and Iraq, or Iraq and Iran, or the differences between these groups. Further, because the mass media, with its conflicting information had shaped the global opinions of so many spoon-fed people, the movement towards restrictions on inidividual liberties was extended. Congress, even under Democratic control was cowering in a corner, the president was stubborn as ever, and we watched as nations like China, and Brazil expnaded their research and development, surpassing us in many sectors. We allowed ourselves to become pariahs because of our lack of global understanding. We have led ourselves to become isolationists, and we are fed with filtered information without a moment's thought or reflection. If the government implies that we must protect Israel at all costs, well, then why think twice about it? If we're told that the Mulsim world hates America because of our freedom, then why question that? If the President states that we need to prostrate ourselves on the ground next to the soiled constitution and allow the government to trample us under foot, then it must be for our own good. Worst of all, when atheist "elitists" tell us to embrace rational thinking, strengthen the secular nature of our government, reduce religions role in politics, and ultimately accept that all human beings have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, well execute them. The rights of a dying patient to die with dignity to not matter because religion says so. The rights of a woman who knows she can't afford a child, and doesn't want to burdon society doesn't matter because religion says a clump of cells inside her is a person. These are the moral and ethical failings of a poor educational system. With that in mind, how much progress can we expect out of society when there is so much fear of rational thinking? No wonder we have such an impatient Democracy.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Upon returning from this all-to-brief trip, I will attempt to frequently update this blog with posts containing my impressions, perceptions, experiences, insights, and self-discoveries. I'll illustrate these with photos taken, and hope to better engage the reader. It must be understood that my attempts at changing the nature of this blog is not connected to the hope of gaining a larger readership, or pandering to popular opinion, but is a natural extention of the creative drive to expand and constantly improve. My hope is that as the main themes remain as they are, the exploration of new literary realms will enable a greater interest that borders outside the harsh world of politics and nature. My contempt at politicians and clergy will never wane, and I shall continue to fight for reality as it is. Yet, even reality isn't the harsh nihilistic plane that some would make it out to be. Within reality, there is an amazing development known as the human mind. We can conquer the secrets of nature, as will soon be further revealed with the LHC, and probe the depths of the universe. Our ability to reason and develop tools that can further refine our understanding of the natural world is unsurpassed by any creature that has ever existed on this planet. The fact is that we are truly lucky to have survived the cosmic death gallery long enough to develop the self awareness to explore everything around us. Science is ultimately the only door that we can use to highten our understanding of everything around us. It is not a belief like religion, but instead, the only method that will lead to true empirical understanding.
Having completely drifted off topic, I would like to return to explaining the inner need to blog about my upcoming experiences in Armenia. As it's often said, it's only by looking at the past that we can have a greater understanding of who we are, and where we're going. My primary goal on this trip is to first, understand both the country and the people from which I came. Of particular interest are the archaeological and historical sites that will help highlight the true history of the region. Secondly, I would like to gauge the attitude of the people, and developing economy of the present, and hopefully uncover the direction that the Undiscovered Country will take. Yet, the Undiscovered Country is a blind path, with only hindsight as a guide, which even on its best day is probably unavoidable. The natural oscillations and rhythm of life as our existence moves through spacetime is as circular in some ways as it's linear in others. Only science and the constant battle calls for defeating the ghosts of the past can prevent our sysyphusian struggle.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
With just one example from global history in mind, we can now look at the current Russo-Georgian conflict with an enlightened perspective and a window into understanding the perpetuation of history due to the human condition. The current expansionist policies of Russia can be likened to the growing power of the Roman Empire. In Russia's case, its influence was far greater and extended to a larger area during the height of the Soviet Union. Under the guise of Communism/Socialism, the Soviets had extended their control from East Germany to China and most of South-East Asia. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's influence was considerably reduced on the world stage. Yet, the last 15 years have seen Russia making a resounding comeback, partly due to the price of oil providing rapid economic growth, and also to the strengthening partnership with Europe and Asia. As Russia's economic situation has improved, they have realized that as they were going through countless hardships and post-communist changes, NATO, with a significant United States control was slowly marching towards Russia's back door. Ultimately, the need for oil and regional control of the Middle East by the West eventually sent alarm bells in Moscow. Without exercising any control and influence, Russia would lose out on many lucrative resources and opportunities for future economic growth. This lead to closer ties with Iran, and an attempt at rekindling strategic partnerships with many of the former Soviet Republics. Yet, with the Western Democratic reform movements that swept through Ukraine and Georgia, Russia become painfully aware of the need for regional influence and a reanimation of their global inspirations.
As is frequently said, the death of the Soviet Union lead Russia into Hibernation, but the sleeping bear is awakening and hungry. Diving deeper in this analogy, having slept off the winter, the bear now sees his territory brimming with hungry bears, particularly one that seems intent on limiting his movement. He knows that even in his limited area, he has resources that the other bears covet. In Russia's case, Georgia is the geographic boundary that Russia must retain control to continue on its prosperous rout. Having allied itself with Iran and Armenia, Russia needs to maintain expansion in Georgia to retain regional control of the Caucuses and thus the bridge to extend into Iran. At the moment however, control of Georgia is in the hands of the West, and thanks in large part to the East-West Baku-Ceyhan pipeline (see previous post here), the West cannot lose influence in the region. Since Georgia is so critical to the interests of both Russia and the West, it has become a buffer state like Armenia used to be under the Roman and Persian Empires (also happens to be just north of it as well). The Russians, knowing they have little direct control in Georgia proper, decided to extend their helping hand to the small semi-autonomous states within Georgia that border Russia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, being the lesser pawns in the game, decided that siding with Russia would help maintain their independence (they should have talked to the Chechens) far more effectively than allowing Georgia to control their destiny. Moreover, both provinces feel as though they have economically more to gain when Russia exerts power and influence in the region. As for Armenia, it recognizes that siding with the Russians may be fraught with danger, but the chance for economic improvement and geopolical stability is a difficult proposition to discard. Knowing they have a hostile neighbor to their east (Azerbaijan) and a much stronger and, in their eyes, malevolent neighbor to the West (Turkey) they feel the necessity to maintain a strategic partnership with a near-by power whose strength is much greater then both their neighbors'. The partnership with Russia isn't just unilateral however. Russia in turn exploits Armenia knowing that they have an ally in the region completely dependent on them. This dependence on Russia provides Armenia with some feelings of importance. Yet, if history is any indication, the perceived power that small nations have is as illusory as unicorns and rainbow gold. As soon as the nature of the situation changes, or the economics shift, those small nations that hold so tightly to those in power will be readily discarded. As with Georgia's current crisis, the expectation that the West would come to Georgia's aid militarily must have been tempting but as it turns out, the West can only attempt to verbally intimidate Russia. Russia has fuel control over the West, and no amount of barking will amount to significant changes. The West, especially the United States in recent years, have continuously promised more then they could deliver to pawns all around the world. When the Kurds were promised greater freedom, and delivered on their insurrection against Saddam Hussein, the West, enjoying the oil riches, allowed the Kurds to suffer the consequences with little sympathy. Even now, the West exploits the Kurds, while concurrently manipulating Iraqi and Turkish politics to prevent the Kurds from gaining greater autonomy. We talk of the importance of territorial integrity, yet, find ourselves supporting Taiwan's calls for independence and allowing bases in countries that in some cases are completely hostile (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for example). Yet, this is how the work of empires is done. Through hypocrisy and the perpetuation of disingenuous ideals, the powerful forces of the world manipulate the game of world politics through sheer audacity and people's stupidity.
Considering the Chess analogy, many of the small nations in the world, already described as pawns, can be readily sacrificed as long as the game proceeds to it's conclusive end (checkmate occurs when on nation controls the resources of the whole world). There are some people who feel as though there is a world order that controls the nature of the game and seems almost omnipotent in its actions. Yet, that would be like assuming that the purpose of chess is to discard all the pieces and allow only the Queen and Rooks to remain in the game protecting one's King and attempting to attack the other's. The world is a lot more complex, and the outcome of the future as variable as the strategy and movement from one chess game to another. It should further be noted that the pawns are not always useless and can at times help protect the King and other times, hinder an escape. Similarly, many of the small nations of the world rely on their importance towards controlling regional affairs, and if the situation is favorable and remains constant, then they are rewarded, but if there's a negative turn in their position, they are the first to suffer the consequences of discord and strife. Those of us who come from areas of the world that are constantly changing hands, grow to become both cynical at the prospects, or idealistic towards a final change for the better. Yet, economics and the human condition will generally collude to prevent the lesser nations from attaining degrees of freedom and independence outside the protection of the much larger empires. Ultimately, the illusion we harbor at having freedom of choice, and control over our destinies is just that, a complete and total illusion. We are prey to the whims of both nature and human nature. But the one ray of hope from attaining this view is that although our destinies aren't under our direct control, we can investigate our position and be true to ourselves. We can allow our minds to probe our place in the fabric of society, and although disconcerting at times, how many creatures on this planet have that ability? How many people can truly say that conflict and warfare in the world have shown them that although we're at the mercy of forces greater than us, we can maintain degrees of freedom and expression in our thoughts and our daily actions? For all we know, an asteroid can collide with Earth and lead to our extinction. Would all the wars that we fight, and all the petty skirmishes over economic resources matter? Sadly, those who have the luxury to realize such things also happen to generally live in places of peace and stability.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Ultimately, this conflict comes down to territorial integrity and whether a sovereign nation has the right to uphold it when separatists within the internationally recognized boundaries declare de-facto independence.
In Georgia's case, the country that we know of as Georgia is actually a commonwealth of a number of republics. Recently, because of the geopolitical games to control the region, Georgia has been fighting an internal conflict between ethno-linguistic groups that want to remain allied with Russia, and others that prefer to ally with NATO and the West. During this conflict, both the United States and Russia have sent special forces to control the region. Georgia is vital to both Russian and NATO (read US) interests. At the moment, Georgia is being used as a corridor to transport oil from the Caspian Sea port of Baku in Azerbaijan, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan for consumption in the West. Similarly, Georgia is vital to Russia's strategic interests with Iran. Armenia, sharing the southern border of Georgia is pro-Russian (although there's a heavy opposition that wishes to break those ties and move closer to NATO) and has a north-south fuel corridor with Iran. By gaining control over Georgia, Russia can link itself to Iran through rail, energy supply, and various other economic resources. Similarly, by limiting Russia's role, NATO and the West can maintain a strong East-West corridor, thereby checking Russia's regional influence. At its heart though, this region of the world has seen its fare share of conflict between superpowers. When the Roman and Persian empires fought to a stalemate, it was Armenia and Georgia that were frequently used as buffer states. When the Turks and Byzantine were at odds, it was again the same region that was critical for power and control.
The modern problem also stems from the borders of Georgia being drawn up by Stalinist policy. In essence, the Caucuses is a very culturally heterogenous region, with various ethno-linguistic groups vying for political independence. As many remember from the wars in Chechnya and to a lesser extent Daghestan in Russia, as well as these current conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, the region is highly volatile and prone to constant dissatisfaction. As an Armenian, I can attest to similar problems when the Armenian province of Nagorno-Karabagh in Azerbaijan tried to break away and assert their political independence. Ultimately, it lead to a still-ongoing conflict and although the region is under Armenian control, the political situation is highly charged. Any regional conflict like this in Georgia can easily escalate into a larger conflict with these other republics.
One thing that must be understood is that the media is going to maintain bias towards NATO and the West. The actual spark of this conflict was Georgia's surprise attack on South Ossetia's capital, thinking the world would be distracted, and the expectation of Russia's excessive response. The thinking in Georgia was that with Russia's severe aggression against its vital interests, the West would come down hard and it would cause a major diplomatic rift. The player in all this that goes unmentioned are the Americans who've sent special forces in Georgia. It would be cynical to assume that Georgia was coerced into a response thinking that they would capture South Ossetia (although internationally recognized as Georgian territory, many of its citizens hold Russian passports and are therefore like their brothers in North Ossetia, Russian citizens), but with the vital importance of regional control, this is sadly the typical international chess game, with the expense being paid by innocent civilians. It's also obvious that the provisional passports that Russia has granted to the Ossets occurred knowing that this conflict was oncoming and Russia needed an excuse to claim they were just defending their citizens. It must further be understood that in no means is Russia innocent of exploiting the situation but it's to provide a better framework for explaining the conflict in the region. It can also be argued that the Soviet policies of Russification are a major factor for so many ethno-linguistic groups allying with Russia, but as can be seen from the conflict in Chechnya, it wasn't exactly beneficial to Russia or completely effective. What Abkhazia, Ajaria, and South Ossetia, have in common is that although they're provinces of Georgia, they see their future closely aligned with Russia instead of the West. Since they're semi-independent and have de-facto control over their regions, they feel that they shouldn't need to be subservient to Georgia's pro-Western president, Saakashvili, and the West. His Rose revolution, though quite important for regional control of the West, is actually looked upon as disastrous by the opposing provinces. When you have such a culturally heterogenous region that's also of great strategic importance, you're going to have all sides attempting to exploit the region for their economic benefit. It comes down to simple economics and geopolitical control.
Attempting to recreate the stage that this conflict is set is somewhat of a difficult task, but in doing so, the nature of the cycle of violence and geo-politics in this region becomes clear. From the map below, the semi-autonomous provinces of Georgia are indicated in red. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia border Russia, and more importantly prove strategic in Russia's influence within Georgia. Currently, both the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline (operated by British Petroleum and highlighted in Blue) and the Baku-Supsa Pipeline travel across a narrow central corridor of Georgia, before diverging. The Baku-Ceyhan then proceeds through Turkey, to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, while the Baku-Supsa terminates near a town Sochi, in another semi-autonomous province of Georgia known as Ajaria. Sochi is an important Black Sea port for the Caucases region, allowing the fuel to be transported on barges that are sent across the world. This is known as the East-West corridor and is already a well established fuel-transit system. Yet, there's also a natural gas pipeline just recently built that connects Iran to Armenia. As can also be seen, there's an additional natural gas pipeline that emanates from Russia, connecting to Georgia. If the two natural gas pipelines can be linked (the hard to see broken yellow line potentially passing through central Armenia), this becomes a valuable North-South corridor that benefits Russia, Iran, as well as Armenia. Even though Georgia could potentially benefit from this North-South Pipeline, simple economics dictate that the benefit they receive from the East-West routes, along with other economic stimulus funds from the West are too good to give up.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
The most important tool that we use to properly assess a situation is the scientific method. As any primary school pupil should learn, the scientific method involves certain steps that help us uncover natural processes. In short, the process involves the identification of a problem, observing and collecting data, posing a hypothesis based on the data, performing an experiment on the data, analyzing the relevant information gained, and reassessing the hypothesis to see if it holds up to the data. Generally, the first step to the scientific method involves a question. For example, why are the oldest hominid bones found in East Africa? Once we have the question, we can start to research the problem and attempt to form a hypothesis. In the given example, we can start by looking at the paleobotanical record of East Africa during the last few million years. We can further use comparative anatomy to view the changes in hominid development during the last few millions years. Further research and data can include fossilized pollen, geological changes, climatic differences, etc. What we'll see is that the ecology of East Africa during the critical time of bipedal development changed from relatively wet, to dryer conditions. What was once forested areas, were developing into grasslands. We can hypothesis then, that perhaps the reason the oldest hominid bones were found in East Africa was because the climatic changes forced certain apes to adapt to grasslands, whilst others were forced to retreat deeper into the forests. Since performing an experiment in this case would be impossible given the time constraints we have to deal with (we don't have millions of years of time to research this), we can continue building evidence and collecting data to further allow us to determine whether the new data will help reinforce our hypothesis. At this point, we can look at various hypotheses and use the growing evidence to rule some of them out. The greatest aspect of the scientific method is that it allows a hypothesis to be discarded when the evidence counters it. Using the hominid example, we can look at the various hypotheses attempting to explain why apes in that region of Africa evolved bipedalism and certain characteristic traits. Could it have anything to do with adapting towards a life in and near inland lakes (Aquatic Ape Hypothesis)? We can then ask, if the climate changed in East Africa, it must have had an effect in other areas of Africa. Is there evidence for evolutionary changes in other species during this time period? Was there an increase in animals that inhabit grasslands? In any case, the growing body of research into this problem allows us to come closer to answering the initial question, and discarding hypotheses that fall apart on further reflection. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is one of those that proved to fall apart and the many holes in the hypothesis are mentioned in the following link. Often times with science, we don't have a quick and easy solution to any question, and in fact, answering one question often leads us to a path of asking many more in return. Yet, it's the curiosity and rigorous tools of the scientific method that allows us to chip away at our ignorance and attempt to understand the world around us.
Considering that no single person has the time or resources to investigate every single aspect of the natural world, we must come to realize that we are dependent on the work and theories of others to help build a case for any investigation into nature. In this instance, a second tool that helps us critically analyze a given situation is the credibility of the individual making a claim. Many of these individuals have spend their lives on a specific question and thus have the greatest knowledge in their relevant field. Yet, it's only those individuals that have used the rigors of the scientific method who truly stand out as experts. One can spend their whole life attempting to explain hurricanes and tornadoes as acts of god, or caused by invisible cherubs at specific regions of the troposphere, but without the background in meteorology, their explanations are often completely groundless. Similarly, many so called "experts" with little background in the sciences will analyze the Egyptian Pyramids and determine that there is no possible way that humans could have built them. Their assumptions stem from the lack of technological tools that the Egyptians possessed, or the lack of political organization, or any number of other possible factors. Yet, without having to look to the heavens, there are many clues as to how the pyramids were constructed within standard Egyptian society and culture. Just because it took us thousands of years to relearn the methods, and due to our lack of hindsight as far as the organizational skills that Egyptian Civilization possessed during the Old Kingdom, many were and still are quick to dismiss the fact that such a feat was possible without any extra-terrestrial or supernatural influence. It's mainly thanks to the tireless work of actual experts, such as Egyptologists, Engineers, Architects, Computer Scientists, and even comparative sociologists, who have all contributed to our advancing understanding of early Egyptian civilizations and the true extent of their capabilities.
A third tool we can use when critically analyzing a given piece of information is Evidence. We should strive to ask ourselves what kind of evidence exists that helps support the given information. Does the evidence come from credible sources? Is it reproducible? Can we see this evidence for ourselves if we search hard enough or attain enough knowledge in the given field to uncover it? Are there independent sources that we can corroborate the information with? Feelings and thoughts are not enough to be considered evidence. As in law, the burden of proof falls upon those presenting the evidence that refutes the body of information that we have. Sure, some pieces of evidence prove to completely turn a theory on its side, while others are methodological errors, such as Cold Fusion, that prove impossible to reproduce. When accepting a given kernel of information as fact, the line of reasoning and rational thinking is our own to demarcate. It comes down to our educated and highly critical filters that determine whether a given quanta of information is reliable, credible, and ultimately, backed by evidence that can ultimately be falsified. Following this line of thinking, the second segment of this post will focus on the conspiracy theories that even the most educated and well intentioned people may hold as truth.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Cutting to the proverbial chase, it becomes necessary and vital for the English language to use the Gender Neutral Pronoun in the generic sense. I propose using Ji (pronounced Jee), Jir, and Jin with some provided examples to further illustrate their usage. The first sentence will use the grammatically incorrect form, the second, the grammatically correct but awkward form, and the final will correct those with the newly created usage.
When a visitor comes to your house, you should always offer them a refreshment.
When a visitor comes to your house, you should always offer him or her a refreshment.
When a visitor comes to your house, you should always offer jir a refreshment.
A student always knows if they are capable of exceeding a teacher's expectations.
A student always knows if he or she is capable of exceeding a teacher's expectations.
A student always knows if ji is capable of exceeding a teacher's expectations.
The antique dealer bought their purchase on Tuesday.
The antique dealer bought his or her purchase on Tuesday.
The antique dealer bought jin purchase on Tuesday.
Finally, even the reflexive pronoun of Himself or Herself could very easily be applied as Jirself to maintain gender neutrality.
When one thinks of themselves as hilarious, they are often unfunny.
When one thinks of himself or herself as hilarious, he or she is often unfunny.
When one thinks of jirself as hilarious, ji is often unfunny.
As this last example clearly illustrates, the most effective, and efficient method of expression would use the gender neutral pronoun. This way, many grammatical mistakes can be avoided, and the charges that the English language artificially maintains a sexist bend can start to slowly fade. In a simpler world, people would not be as sensitive to the whims of language, and many feminist philologists would just as likely continue using the masculine as a generic gender neutral pronoun. Yet, because of the complexities in our society, and our continuously evolving sense of morality, behavior, and the correlative speech patterns involved, we must make be willing to make necessary adjustments to the language. English is a living, breathing, constantly evolving language, and therefore, flexible enough to incorporate sensible linguistic parameters throughout its ever-changing course.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Our current Causality Cascade will focus on Napoleon and a little known explorer named Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. La Perouse was a French naval officer and explorer who idolized Capt. James Cooke, and also sailed in his footsteps around the Pacific. The passage between Japan and the Russian island of Sakhalin is named in his honor. In addition, he explored Alaska, California, and many Pacific Islands. In Samoa, he barely escaped injury, but a few of his crew were killed when they encountered hostile Samoans. His crew had a significant proportion of scientists, and he was highly successful in his mapping surveys. Sadly, after sending most of his writings and charts to England with some of his crew, he disappeared never to be heard from again.
The fascinating aspect of this story is that Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the sailors who applied for La Perouse's expedition to circumnavigate the world and help complete and complement the expeditions of Captain Cooke. At the time, Napoleon was a 16 year old second lieutenant from Paris' military academy seeking to serve in the navy, instead of the army, because of his prodigious knowledge of artillery and mathematics. These skills lent well towards a naval career, and had Napoleon made the short list on Le Perouse's circumglobal expedition, European history would probably have been much different. Would Napoleon have been one of those sailors killed by Samoans? Would he have disappeared along with the rest of La Perouse's crew? Would he have been one of the sailors sent to England with the charts and notes of La Perouse's? Had these events taken place, would the metric system be as wide spread around the world as it is today? Would the rise of nationalism take place at the rate it did? Without such a nationalistic uprising, would both World Wars have been delayed or even prevented? This is a true causality cascade. With Napoleons entry into La Perouse's expedition denied, his course in life was surely changed, and subsequently, the course of human history most definitively so.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
It must be stated however that Obama does not automatically receive a passing grade because he was less manipulative and politically motivated then Clinton. He is still a politician, an individual willing to compromise his core values to achieve some sort of coalition. No politician is beyond compromising certain views to gather large political support. Our electoral and political system, as it stands, still leaves much to be desired. We are not a democracy until a better form of representation is allowed. Further, with only two political parties, all we receive are sterilized issues that choose to divide instead of unify. Ultimately, the poor will remain poor, the rich will continue to accumulate wealth, and the status quo will remain. A society is defined by its weakest link, and we should be ashamed that so many Americans are poor and uneducated. A fear of the elite is just a small part of the disease of ignorance that has crept up in our system. When Clinton tossed around the word "elite" as though it were a negative thing, her true nature became clear for many. She knew that she was courting the uneducated vote of a a segment of the American population that has yet to embrace the values of the 21st century. Much of their support for Clinton came with the undercurrent of racism and Clinton knowingly used this for her advantage. Thinking of states such as West Virginia, with the core representing the supposed "working class white" votes, their racial biases were not subtle when interviewed about their support for Clinton. Many not only showed racial biases, but as an uniformed populace, bought into the belief that Obama was a practicing Muslim, and therefore a threat to America. It's not as though Clinton's campaign went out of their way to dissuade such intolerant beliefs. For a person willing to do anything and everything necessary to gain a foothold in the highest position of power smells of desperation and selfishness. Yet, her role still remains crucial in helping mend the fallout from these battles. She can fight hard to repair the damage to her reputation, or allow the party to fall apart and thus help usher in four more years of idiocy.
Arbitrary Day should be an international holiday that celebrates absolutely nothing. Just an arbitrary day off from the normal grind of the work week. It doesn't much matter what country one lives in, there are bound to be months in need of a day off. In the US, we have June, August, and since Columbus Day was rightfully recanted, October, without a proper holiday. Perhaps a special web site should be created that allows people to vote for the month and day they would prefer to have as a holiday. This special vote can be cast a year or so before the year of the vote. The day with the greatest amount of votes (a true Democracy) would then become Arbitrary Day. People can choose to celebrate Arbitrary Day in any fashion they desire, whether it's a day off to catch some sun, catch up on a book, establish a family tradition, worship whatever imaginary deity one wishes, etc. I realize this may be a bit of a stretch, but the fact that few will complain with an extra holiday may eventually prove a success.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
From the general tone and direction of the last few months, it has become obvious to regular readers that there's more anger, frustration, fire, and some even call arrogance towards obtuse beliefs and ideas. It must be understood that coercing and indoctrinating an individual who remains ignorant of critical thinking is not difficult, but those who have developed the knowledge and understanding that only empirical processes can reveal are well suited towards navigating these complex lives we lead full of misleading and conflicting information. These topics are not meant to proselitize or convince others of their mistaken notions overnight. First, it is more of a personal catharsis towards developing a wholesome and realistic perspective in life. However, as is often the case when I debate my views, I'm labeled as a fundamentalist, no different then religious zealots out to convince others of their superiority. In fact, there's a law that relates to this illogic called "Blake's Law". It states that the longer a conversation between a believer and atheist lasts, it's almost 100% certain that the believer will call the atheist a fundamentalist. Fortunately, a response to this logical fallacy has already been alluded to by P.Z. Myers (an evolutionary/developmental biologist with one of the most popular science blogs online). His response is:
"The "new atheism" (I don't like that phrase, either) is about taking a core set of principles that have proven themselves powerful and useful in the scientific world — you've probably noticed that many of these uppity atheists are coming out of a scientific background — and insisting that they also apply to everything else people do. These principles are a reliance on natural causes and demanding explanations in terms of the real world, with a documentary chain of evidence, that anyone can examine. The virtues are critical thinking, flexibility, openness, verification, and evidence. The sins are dogma, faith, tradition, revelation, superstition, and the supernatural. There is no holy writ, and a central idea is that everything must be open to rational, evidence-based criticism — it's the opposite of fundamentalism."Some people are happy living a fantasy and lying to themselves about the nature of the world, but others are curious creatures, investigative in nature, and generally enthused about the universe, reserving imagery and fantasy to realms that are fun in small doses or for amusement, but in normal daily practice, are useless. Every infant is an explorer, intrigued about the surroundings, and investigative in their nature. Once we reach a critical age, perhaps through our educational system, or rigid religious dogma, most of us lose our sense of wonder and fulfillment. We stop asking questions, and settle with substandard answers because we fear the truth.
However, atheists as a whole, although sharing the common bond of living in reality and functioning with a great deal of skepticism when faced with non-testable predictions, are often divided among many other topics. The philosophical views for example among atheists are ubiquitous, with some agnostic about the proper philosophy, while others seek to find philosophical satisfaction from obscure sources. One major disagreement I have with some atheists is the fact that they feel the word "atheist" carries too much negative connotative baggage, and therefor must be discarded for something more pleasant and friendly to the ear. The eminent biologist Richard Dawkins, among a few intellectuals have been pushing for the "brights movement". In this case, they want to relabel atheists as brights, and in doing so, hope that more come to embrace it. In my opinion, this relabeling seems too patronizing and condescending towards those who are ready to release their dogmatic faith-based beliefs. Another disagreement is on how to introduce these concepts to children. Their natural curiosity and imagination should not be limited, but at the same time, they must understand at an early age to be skeptical of certain beliefs may try to reinforce. In this instance, I believe raising children to embrace agnosticism is far more beneficial. A time may come when their perspective develops to the point where they choose to become atheist, but until that moment, they must be able to process the universe skeptically, but less rigidly. Christmas presents, and Easter egg scavager hunts should not be denied to children (after all, childhood has to remain fun and exciting), but they should be told that no matter how convincingly an adult tells them they know the truth, they must always maintain some skepticism. If a child asks if God is real, then a good response from this open perspective would be "to some people, they think God is real, while others, they aren't so sure, but nobody really knows the absolute truth. Anything you believe is equal to anyone else, but remember that the best way to investigate the world around you is through science." Ask any atheist, and their reply to children regarding this God question will be different. Here again, being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean we're all in agreement about everything. Unlike rigid political parties, we're happy to debate our differences, and perspective within a framework of reason, critical thinking, and the exchange of different opinions grounded within reality.
Ultimately, the future direction of this blog is up to the whims of reason, critical thinking, and the countless sources of information that help us maintain a grounded world view. True inspiration does not come from imaginary beings that mean something to someone and remain completely unknown to others, but to our inherent inquisitive human nature. It is our physical and cultural evolution that leads us to reach for goals and objectives far beyond our limited scope. It's the embrace of these ideals that will define our future.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
1) Pilots run out of fuel, pray, land near Jesus sign
2) Lost parrot tells veterinarian his address
3) Daughter of Christian music star killed by car
4) Federal court rules against military gays policy
5) Scientists discover "frogamander" fossil
As one glances through these topics, it's hard not to notice the vastly different stories that these articles contain. The first one involves light aircraft pilots who made an emergency landing and upon preying to God, happened to crash land safely next to a sign praising Jesus. Now it's understandable that during the stress of the event, and the likelihood that their perceived survival was slim, such a coincidence would seem like proof positive that the heavens somehow intervened to save these pilots. One question however is why do so many people praying for similar things end up dead, while these two survived? Some may say that perhaps they had a mission in life that wasn't accomplished, or that God operates mysteriously. Well, as is obvious from previous posts, that's a load of nonsense and justifiably used to convince oneself of their indoctrinated beliefs. The survival of these two pilots was a lucky accident, and they should feel like they won a royal flush in poker, but to assume that God made that possible is laughable at best.
The second story relates to a lost African Grey parrot in Japan that happened to know its own name and address, to the minute detail of the apartment number. What amazes me about the story is the temperment of the parrot. Initially, as it was brought in to a police station, it was silent, but after a few days of reduced stress, and a nurturing environment that had comforts such as food and water, the parrot was able to feel comfortable enough to speak. The fact that they display such differing characteristics and temperments between each other highlights their intelligence. One question that often comes up is the evolutionary advantage of such great mimicry. Why are African Grey parrots so much better at mimicking various sounds, as opposed to other parrots? What is special in their environment that allows the such an evolutionary adaptation? Finally, do their thought processes and vocal mimicries result from their gregarious social nature or sexual selection adaptability?
The third article is unfortunately the most tragic of all. Apparently the 5 year old daughter of a Christian music star was killed when she was accidentally run over by a car driven by her teenage brother. Naturally, the death, and subsequent trauma that this poor child must carry will be a burden upon this unfortunate family. Yet, where was their God to save the poor girl? Was he silent? Was he blind? I don't mean to lessen the tragedy or severity of this event, but was this girl's life any less sacred then the lives of the light aircraft pilots?
The fourth story represents a fragment of the constant battle that minority groups have fought throughout our history. As culture and society progress, groups that were previously mistreated have slowly become accepted and eventually ingrained in society. At one point in time, Native Americans, African-Americans, non land-owners, women, and recently homosexuals have been given negligible, if perhaps limited freedoms in American society. The story mimics the constant battles that each of these groups has had to face for acceptance. At the moment, non-believers such as atheists, agnostics, and others who have replaced irrational faith with evidence based reasoning have become targets for discrimination. Ultimately, as has always been the case, progress will prevail, and after a long drawn out battle of acceptance, groups that are discriminated will eventually become absorbed into the complex social fabric that will become the future. Yet, we are constantly reminded of liberty, equality, and justice for all, while those concepts are applied to a limited number of individuals and seem to always come with a limiting caveat.
Finally, on a more scientific-related article, recent fossil evidence has emerged that links the amphibian family lines of frogs and salamanders together. Evolutionary Biologists have long known that there was a common ancestor, or transitional species that at one point branched to form the respective amphibian families. The evidence is indicated through comparative anatomy, molecular clocks, and other such independent evidence. Finding the missing fossil that links the frog and salamander family together is vitally important in understanding how fossils evolve over time, and more specifically, how the amphibian family branched. It is amazing and literally ground-breaking discoveries like this that leads to our expanded knowledge and understanding of the world around us. No religion, no matter how well intentioned can ever answer questions as properly and beautifully as the scientific method can. The fact that a 290 million year old creature happened to die in favorable circumstances for fossilization, and that nearly a third of a billion years later, a creature with immense reasoning abilities managed to uncover it and trace its origins and subsequent species diversity is humbling and absolutely incredible. Here we are, as a highly intelligent and adaptable primate uncovering fossils of animals that highlights the origins and immense diversity of life on this little blue globe, placing more importance and emphasis to imaginary entities, instead of the awe inspiring physical world around us.
What links these five stories together, besides their popularity is that they involve our deepest seats of emotion. As one story attempts to solidify our faith, another highlights the tragedy of life, a third uncovers the battle for cultural awareness and progress , and finally two that highlight the wonderment of nature (fossils that unravel so many mysteries and animals that mimic our valuable traits). From highs to lows, from understanding to ignorance, these are the contrasting variables that describe our complex human behavior.
Friday, May 16, 2008
As is typical, people will look at the harsh tone I have set towards religious views and maintain that I am still foolish and arrogant. They'll claim that not all religions are "bad" and that they do have their uses. Some apologists who are not religious themselves will further insist that these religious beliefs (or even the spiritual nonsense dominating the scene these days in the form of new-age ideas) are important for maintaining cultural continuity and a sense of self worth. Obviously, there may be some importance towards religious belief, but with the knowledge that we have accumulated in the last few centuries, few can deny the power of science over those religious myths.
As far as arrogance goes, I suppose that this stigma will remain with these posts as long as the tone remains as such. Yet, it's important to realize that every progressive thought is often met with arrogance when the masses have yet to embrace concepts that will eventually become widespread. There was a time in our not too distant past when many people believed slavery to be morally justifiable. A few however, dared to maintain that perhaps these African descendants were human beings after all. They did happen to bleed the same color, and although their external and cultural differences were obvious, they also laughed, cried, fought, worked, played and even died like any other human being. The brave individuals that first came forward to maintain this injustice were often harassed, attacked, and even killed for their beliefs. They were often looked upon as arrogant people of "enlightenment" who had read too many books and did not function in the "real world". Even closer to our current time, women were barred from voting because it was felt that they could not make a logical decision (often justified through Biblical passages -- the morality of their time). They viewed women as nothing more then child bearing and rearing cheap labor. It took generations of people, and countless individuals willing to stand up to their beliefs that women's votes also counted, before suffrage was declared universal. Looking at society now, many archaic beliefs will one day seem just as strange and unbelievable. Some of us, through determination, and perhaps a small masochistic streak, maintain our views in the face of so much opposition because we know them to be morally and ethically true. To summarize these views (which some deep ultra liberal, but will one day become the norm -- just as the most conservative view today is absolutely liberal and leftist compared to those 100 years ago), one must understand that there was no special creation involved in our evolution and present appearance on this planet. We ARE a cosmic accident, and although many have a difficult time accepting that, as religion's flame fades away, more and more minds will begin to understand the implications. If we are truly descended from Apes, and share a common biological bond with all the creatures of the Earth (as well as chemical and physical bond with the rest of the universe), then that means no human being is biologically more important than another. In essence, all human beings are an accident of the universe, and an accident of an evolutionary process that blindly moves in any arbitrary direction dictated by the selective pressures in the environment. No wonder this idea is so revolutionary and unsettling to many people. Their special status is suddenly questioned, and we become no different than any other entity in existence. Thinking along these lines often results in the mistaken impression that these views are extremist and no different than the fundamentalism of certain religions sects. However, these views are based on evidence, and if perpetuating the notion that evidence trumps everything else in explaining and understanding our universe, then perhaps an evidence extremist is not such a bad notion. Eventually, the tide will turn, and most people will come to realize the implications of our accidental nature. True arrogance results in our belief that we are superior to other entities such as ethnic groups, and even biological creatures. Our reasoning abilities however do give us a unique perspective on this planet. We have it within us to change this world, either for the better, or for the worse. Either we use our reasoning abilities to answer the mysteries of our universe, or we waste it on imaginary and supernatural phenomenon that exist only in the inventive minds of fearful, credulous individuals.
Having described this phenomenon of treating Einstein as a valuable resource towards confirmation or denial of various claims, we must try to keep some perspective on these notions. Einstein was neither omnipotent, nor central towards universal insight. He was a human being gifted with abilities in physics, mathematics, simplification of complex laws, and of course, approachability. As all humans however, he was flawed in many ways; distant from his family, unfaithful to his wife, stubborn in his later years towards quantum theory, etc. What all this adds up to is that people deify him and subsequently project their beliefs on to him. Since they respect his position and achievements, they feel that his views are vastly superior to that of scientists in today's world. However, it must be understood that Einstein was neither a philosopher, or had the theoretical knowledge and wealth of the last 60 years to draw upon. His notions, though far advanced for his time, are now expanded upon and further understood. What was once his theories of general and special relativity have become well understood by many physicists, and they have further labored (just as Einstein did in his last 30 years) towards unifying these concepts of gravity with the other three fundamental forces (known as a Grand Unification Theory, or GUT). Although we're no closer at approaching unification, we have a much better understanding of relativity and yet, must realize that Einstein doesn't speak for all scientists or philosophies. People cannot use his views on religion as a justification for belief or disbelief. He was an important human being, but is now dead and gone. His beliefs, though important and relevant to him have been long buried along with his body. It doesn't matter what his religious views were, just as it shouldn't make a difference as to what Newton, Galileo, Darwin, and others believed. We should form our opinions based on this mountain of scientific evidence collected through the centuries regardless of the personal beliefs of those involved. Their scientific achievements are a totally different and far more important matter, but whether they believed that shooting ducks in a barrel filled with tomato sauce or running puppies over while riding intoxicated on morphine on a unicycle, was a fun method to pass the time, shouldn't matter.
The recent progress that science and technology have provided to society cannot be underestimated. Through the countless work of millions of driven and wise individuals, a large base of knowledge has been established that continues to grow and add through refinements in the scientific method and developments based on that principle. Concurrently, as fields of expertise have expanded, certain other roles are slowly becoming relegated to the past. Blacksmiths, whose role cannot ever be understated in past society have largely disappeared, with only a few individuals practicing it for the sake of art or very specific niches. Similarly, one would expect the role of religious experts to disappear. As science expands and contradicts the mythical and imaginative stories that many religions are based on, the individuals practicing this nonsense should theoretically be relegated to the role of mythologists. Yet, we see a growing sense of dread for billions of people in the possible loss of these "experts". I have already tackled the reasons many are unable to uncoil this reality numbing python wrapped around their minds in previous posts, but it must be restated that through ignorance, need for comfort, seeking of authority, group thinking, and indoctrination the sense of wonder and reality about the universe is snuffed away. These people grasp at any possible link that although false, may give them a sense of ignorant and blissful inner peace. They purposely close their minds or of those who are willing to tread the fence, stop just before fully crossing into reality and rationalism by purporting to feel empty without their indoctrinated belief system. Ultimately, this fear of the unknown is reinforced and continuously indoctrinated throughout the believers' lives. The fear of having only one chance in life, only one shot on this planet as a biological organism, fragile, and readily influenced through any whim of the cosmos stops many in their tracts, and in fact, results in their hatred towards those who are unwilling to stop at an artificial line.
The ignorant individuals who have developed a sense of fear and mistrust of knowledge eventually deem those who possess those specific traits as a danger to society and view their behavior negatively. The label "elitist" is tossed around these days, by congressmen, media pundits, and even a would-be presidential candidate. The proverbial camelid back breaking straw was when Hillary Clinton referred to Barack Obama's higher education and impassioned, educated speeches as elitist. Suddenly, half the country decided that elitists were evil, snobbish, and didn't care about the working class. Yet, when one really looks at politicians, most of them are traditionally elitist. They have power, money, influence, and most important, view themselves as privileged when compared to the rest of Americans. These people in such lofty positions are all elitist. The scientists, educators, inventors, researchers, and the like are modern day experts, not the elite. These are people who are working hard to further society, and help humanity, while politicians bicker and cause hatred and division among the populace to further their own egotistical agendas. They set the stage for their children to continue in their footsteps, as in the case of the Bush family. These are the elite that the populace should fear, not the learned, and educated individuals. Knowledge is nothing to fear when taken ethically and responsibly but unfortunately, few will ever come to understand this concept. Society will continue to treat children who possess the drive and will to learn as nerds, geeks, dorks, bookworms, etc. It's no surprise that the average American would rather have a President in office that they could share a drink with, play monopoly with, shoot deer, treat them like children, and continually police and suppress their free thought with the public's blind acceptance and enthusiasm. It should further be understood that not all individuals are born with the personality traits conductive towards acquiring all forms of knowledge, but most every individual has certain latent talents and behavioral characteristics that can allow them to occupy certain important niches in society. The shame of having so many people turn their back against knowledge is that many of them can be instrumental in embracing the future, but because of ignorance, politics, and intimidation or fear, they will take the easy road and become resistant towards personal growth and development. When they do seem to embrace personal growth, it's often directed towards useless endeavors like religion or spirituality. It's no secret that religion's greatest fear is knowledge, thus the story of the forbidden fruit and clichés like "ignorance is bliss". Yet, the knowledge is there to be ascertained and the possibilities are both gratifying and infinite. If stating these facts make me seem elitist, then be it so, but there's nothing negative about it.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
As Armenians around the world debate within the legislative branches of their governments for Genocide Recognition, their resources could be better aimed at actually assisting an entity that has managed to emerge from the ashes of such trauma. The Republic of Armenia, as small as it is in area, landlocked and surrounded with barren terrain, is still a soil that is sovereign and independent. After nearly three thousand years of constant battles, an internationally recognized constitutional state has emerged. The obstacles have been numerous, and every advance seems to highlight areas that seem to have recessed or stagnated. Recently, Armenia has been through the most divisive issue that has surfaced in this infant Republic. As the Presidential Elections of 2008 approached, the opposition, lead by the formerly disgraced President of Armenia (Levon Ter Petrossian), staged a massive and violent protest, aimed at the apparently corrupt rule of the outgoing President Robert Kocharian. This protest released a lot of resentment building up within Armenia, regarding those that aim for Western influence, and others who are reliant on Russian influence. As has been the case in Armenian history, the region has become a volatile place of world powers, aiming to deftly, as well as overtly, influence Armenia's future. Armenia has once again become a buffer state, that can be manipulated and manhandled. As the international Armenian community uses their well intentioned influences towards Genocide Recognition, Armenia teeters on the brink of chaos. The possibility of losing the sovereign nation that has spent well over 700 years to regain sovereignty seems to bypass the minds of many Genocide Activists. If Armenians cannot unite and organize to save the Republic, then what good is Genocide Recognition? As the world watches, Armenians are killing each other over foreign influence of the region while a great opportunity for advancement and modernization passes by as quietly as the wing flaps of an owl.
Having just highlighted the problems that have come from tunnel vision focusing squarely on Genocide Recognition, the possibilities of reinventing ourselves is infinite. Armenians need look no further then modern states to see how a small nation, with seemingly few resources can become a major player and partner to the modern global economy. As an example, Singapore, even in the 1950's, was largely an agricultural and rural country. Yet, within a few decades, it had become powerful enough to lead the world in certain industrial and financial sectors. As of late, many biotechnology companies have moved there to embrace the growing sector that's become the focal point of asian economics and future development. Switzerland is another example of what a country, in this case, one with many different linguistic and ethnic groups, can accomplish if they unite for a common purpose. Armenians, having a shared culture, need not have the ethnic concerns that governed Switzerland, yet, as far as banking and finance are concerned, no other country in the world can compete with Switzerland. Although banking has become a global business, and very difficult to establish as an entity similar to Switzerland, information technology, biotechnology, and modern research and development can be key in Armenia's future. If Armenia can establish a transit hub for technology linking Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the possibilities are endless. Although there are many drawbacks towards being landlocked in a contentious area of the world, one of the benefits is that it becomes a transit point for economics. Even as far back as the Silk Road, Armenia had been the midpoint of trade between China and Europe. This kind of hub mentality could definitely translate to the modern global economy. As Armenians around the world reinvent themselves, and shake off the victim label that they so proudly wear, much more can be accomplish. We can help to steer Armenia into having the internal strength and equality to many powers of the region, and for once, control our own destiny as a people. No more shall we be prey towards the tide of political influence, begging for scraps at the table, when we could proudly become equal trade partners to many areas of the world. The Armenian Diaspora, along with the Republic of Armenia can finally focus on something beyond Genocide Recognition and declaring to the world that Armenia was the first to declare Christianity as a State Religion. These days, who really cares about either of those two things besides Armenians? What matters most is where we will be as a people, and a culture a century from now. Will we remain pawns in the global game of power and influence, or will we finally break free of these bonds and declare ourselves active participants of the Modern world economy? This is the question that every Armenian, both foreign and domestic, must ask themselves.