Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bible study – Jesus was anti-capitalist

OK, in a previous Bible study, I said Jesus was clearly a socialist, not a capitalist.

But, Luke 16 takes it further; middle management gets the green light to cheat the “owners of the means of production.” Verses 1-9 have the details:
1Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'

3"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'

5"So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

6" 'Eight hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'

7"Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'

8"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

But then (assuming there was an actual Jesus and these were, approximately, his actual words, some “law and order” editor, now called “Luke,” has to go spoil the whole parable, in verses 10-15:
10"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?

13"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

Sorry, but Jesus the anti-capitalist didn’t say that at all.

Instead, let’s say you’re working for EDS as a middle manager. You electronically pencil-whip a bunch of doctors’ and clinics’ Medicare billings. In exchange, you get free plastic surgery for life, including a new boob job for that blonde bimbo you’re cheating on your wife with.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Brains pushing the envelope

Not some particular brains, but all brains. Our dura matter operates “on the edge of chaos, new studies show. And the results have some interesting self-organizational fallout.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Music IS the universal language

Turns out sub-Saharan Africans can pick out the likely emotional state reflected by particular items of Western music, even people who may never have heard such music on a radio before.

That said:
1. The study is small;
2. I’m not sure of the p-value;
3. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t asked to listen to Schoenberg or even more avant-garde items.

Bible study – Jesus was a SOCIALIST! (I think)J

No, don’t let the success theologians, or the fundamentalists and others who are willfully wedded at the hip to the GOP, tell you Jesus is a capitalist.

Beyond the fact that capitalism as we know it today didn’t exist 2,000 years ago, the bible clearly shows us Jesus is a socialist. Or even a communist, for doorknob’s sake!

Matthew 20:1-16 clearly shows that:
1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went.

"He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

7" 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'

9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

While Jesus doesn’t use Marx’s phrase, it’s arguable that Jesus had some version of “each according to his needs” in mind.

On the other hand, it’s arguable that he was an unregulated Gilded Age capitalist. If he says he has the right to pay whatever he wants, he obviously doesn’t believe in a minimum wage. By rebuking one of the early workers, he clearly doesn’t believe in unionism.

By hiring day laborers in the marketplace, he probably does believe in exploiting labor. Would probably have been OK with unrestricted illegal immigration by the Nabatean Arabs into Roman Palestine.

It’s certainly NOT arguable, though, in reference to the success theologians, that trying to make modern economic arguments and justifications from the bible is almost as inane as trying to do that by ID/creationism.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Religion-based abstinence-only sex-ed fails in Texas – my take

From my March 12 newspaper column:

If politics and religion are the two verboten conversation topics, then, on an editorial page, perhaps “sex education” is the third rail. But, I’m going to go ahead and grab it with both hands and, I hope, provoke some thought.

What brought this to mind is a two-year study, sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network and done by two health education professors from Texas State University, released late last month.

In a nutshell, the study documents the many failures of abstinence-only sex education in Texas public schools.

When male students are worried about getting cervical cancer and the state hasn’t dented one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, it’s obvious what’s being taught now isn’t working.

Among the findings?

First, about 98 percent of public school students get abstinence-only sex education. For most of these students, talk about sexual abstinence itself may be the only sex education they get inside schools. Second, more than 80 percent of school districts receive no formal recommendations on sex education from state-mandated local advisory councils.

Third, information presented beyond “just say no” is often just wrong. Here in the Metroplex, Hurst-Euless-Bedford’s eighth-grade curriculum claims condoms have only about an 80 percent reliability rate. Actual fact? They’re about 97-98 percent reliable. HEB officials claim they don’t know where they got their info, but it’s hard for me not to agree with the Texas Freedom Network some scare tactics started this.

Another alleged “fact” that is wrong? Many schools’ sex education programs still claim that HIV can be transmitted through sweat or tears. Nope. Various curricula also get information about the prevention of transmitting other sexually-related diseases incorrect.
Fourth is the attempted inculcation of particular values, some of which seem to be grounded in Christianity, or even particular versions of Christianity.

For example, the report says one abstinence-only program used in 53 school districts says women need “financial support,” while men need “domestic support.” Sounds kind of sexist to me, and based on what many people might call a “Religious Right” interpretation of male-female relationships.

That said, let me go beyond TFN’s study to take a broader look at teen sexuality.
First, premarital teenage sexual activity wasn’t something invented in the late 20th century.
In Victorian Scotland, where people normally got married in their late teens, one-third of brides were pregnant on their wedding day.

The deal here is not so much that modern American teens have become that much more sexual, nor that the “liberal media” is the prime mover of any such increase in teen sexuality. (And the degree it is to blame, the not-so-liberal Fox TV network is the most salacious of the four broadcast TV networks.)

The deal is that the average age of marriage in the United States today is 25 or so, not the 18 or less it was in 1870s Scotland. In that country and era, nobody went to college, almost nobody graduated high school and most youth didn’t even go to high school. You hit 14 or so and went to a farm, sheep ranch, fishing boat or factory.

Our world today is different, and we need to prevent the social wreckage of unplanned pregnancies, while dealing with the same male and female physiology as 1870s Scots did.
While it might not be impossible for youth, adolescents, etc. going well into adulthood, to put their hormonal jets on hold an additional seven years, it ain’t realistic from where I sit to expect that, and from where many other Americans sit.

That said, it’s often explicitly religious beliefs, explicitly Christian beliefs, that are the cornerstone of public-school abstinence-only sex education in our state.

The study found many Texas classrooms inject religious instruction and Bible study into sex education programs.

“Hardly a page can be found that does not include multiple references to Bible verses, invocation of Christian principles, even attempts to proselytize students with the Christian plan of salvation,” the report says of a curriculum called Wonderful Days, used by three school districts in the Fort Worth area.

Along with the Texas Freedom Network, I also have a problem with the Bible as part of sexual education curriculum.

There’s obvious First Amendment issues here – after all, what would conservative Christians say if sex education lessons were taught from the Quran in our high schools, and male students were told that, if they stayed on the straight and narrow this life, instead of seeing Jesus in the next one, that they would see – and “enjoy” – 70 virgins, instead?

As for conservative Christians who would argue “the majority rules,” many of our Founding Fathers explicitly worried about “the tyranny of the majority.”

Besides, in the Old Testament half of the Christian Bible, we have:

1. A lover talking about his beloved’s breasts, and euphemistically about other body parts, in the Song of Songs. (Think “belly.”)

2. Ruth having pre-marital gleaning fields blanket bingo with Boaz. (Exposing someone’s “feet” is an idiom used more than once in the Old Testament).

3. A Levite (think “deacon” today) openly traveling with his mistress in Judges.

Even if you don’t want the Quran and 70 virgins in your child’s public school sex education, if you’re a Protestant, would you want your child told not only that abstinence is right but modern forms of birth control are wrong?

If parents want to teach a biblically-based abstinence-only sex education at home, fire away. Neither I nor the Texas Freedom Network is going to come knocking on your door. And, if school districts want to teach religion-free scientific thoughts on abstinence as part of sexual education, while also teaching high schoolers basic facts they need to know if they’re going to be sexually active, I’m fine with that.

Abstinence as an option, even the first choice? Sure. Abstinence only? No.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Josephus made up the Essenes

So says Israeli scholar Rachel Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University.

Then, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Zadokites, after a rupture in the priesthood, whether before or after the Maccabean revolt.

The Zadokite idea isn’t that revolutionary; a lot of modern scholars of that era postulate some rupture, with a set of “puritan” priests separating themselves from temple worship. And, many of those scholars agree that most scrolls probably weren’t written at Qumran, contra James Charlesworth’s mention of “inkpots” in the story.

That said, Elior’s claim that the Zadokite split was while the Seleucids still controlled Palestine IS less of a consensus view; other scholars who postulate such a rupture put it after the Maccabees’ success, and some of their later priests became more corrupt. And, yet others say the DSS relate to an early Christian split, with followers of Jesus’ brother James writing about Paul as the “man of lies.”

But, I’ve not seen Elior’s main point pushed forward before, that Josephus invented the Essenes as a counterweight to anti-Semitism.

Read the full story for details of her theory, including how she explains references to Essenes by Pliny, Philo, etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dreams mean – what you want and expect them to

That’s the bottom-line answer from the latest social science research into the field.

We may still not know WHY we dream, but as to what dreams mean?

Well, the research tells us our actual emotional state, beliefs, biases, etc. lead us to determine in advance of any “interpretation” which dreams we consider important and/or true, and which ones we don’t.

Anyway, this is the final nail in the coffin of Freudian, pseudo-Freudian and Jungian dream interpretation.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why Schroedinger was wrong about his cat

Simple statistical mechanics.

He stacks the deck from his Hindu infatuation with his “superposition of eigenstates.”

NOTHING is being “superimposed.” It’s all classical statistical mechanics, from the way I see it.

And, there is no such thing as an “eigenstate” involved.

Let me up the ante on Schroedinger.

Put a cat in a closed box.

Restrain it, because I’m using guillotines, in the plural, rather than poison gas, in the singular.

Give me three radioactive elements with half-lives of X, 2X and 4X.

Give me three guillotines, attached to the cat’s tail, a paw, and its neck respectively.

At X, you have 50 percent chance the cat has lost its tail, 25 percent it has lost its paw and 12.5 percent chance it is dead.

At 2X, probabilities are 75, 50 and 25 percent, respectively.

At 4X, they’re 87.5, 75 and 50 percent.

NO “superposition of eigenstates.” I hope this thought experiment makes the whole idea look ludicrous.

When the lid is lifted of the box, ALL we are doing is checking which of the probabilities is the actuality. Nothing else is being done. The quantum events have happened independently of any observer.

What if a neo-Schroedinger says, lifting the box is itself an observation.

Well, first of all, that’s a “Newtonian” level observation, not a quantum-level one. Unless you try to nano-scale shrink box, cat and guillotines.

Second, I’ll accept the challenge and one-up it.

Give me radioactive element No. 4 with half-life of 8X. It controls a circuit that raises the lid on the box.

OK.

At 8X, we have 93.75 percent chance the cat has no tail, 87.5 that it’s lost a paw, 75 percent that it’s dead, and …

A 50 percent chance that we can see inside the box to determine these probabilities.

Again, all statistical probabilities.

In fact, like the turtles of Schroedinger’s beloved Hinduism, it’s statistics all the way down.

Am I arguing there’s nothing “mysterious,” – as long as you append scare quotes – about quantum mechanics? No, of course not. The two-slit experiment with light rays is proof enough of that.

I AM arguing, though, that quantum mechanics is NOT “metaphysically mysterious.” Or anything on those lines.

I am suggesting that Erwin Schroedinger bears a certain amount of the blame for the rise of today’s Deepak Chopras of the world.

And, albeit for different reasons than Einstein, while I don’t believe that some “na├»ve realism” interpretation of quantum mechanics will win out, should the Holy Grain of a UFT ever be achieved, I do think there will be something more quasi-realistic than the consensus of today.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Female sex desire NOT so different from male

Turns out that on this, as on other sexuality issues, whether to come off as “good girls” or whatever, women may be, either consciously or unconsciously, be lying a lot more than they would like to admit.

Per a female-adapted version of the plethysmograph, women, like men, show plenty of visually-aroused sexual desire. It’s all part of a long story on “what do women want,” how more women and not just men are getting engaged in the scientific study of female sexuality, findings like the above and more.

As a sidebar note, if a story like this doesn’t put “paid” to some of the gender-based stupid — and sexist — claims of Pop Evolutionary Psychology, then I’m a female bonobo’s uncle. (Read the story for the joke.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Outcasts to society

OUTCASTS TO SOCIETY

(As inspired by e-mails from Glo)

No crime adheres to being a loner or not fitting in,
No more than in having a case of “everyday blues.”
There is no crime, none at all
To have a highly individualized human nature
Even if part of that is not organic
But a deliberate, driven reaction to outside conventions;
That too is laudable.

Society, in all its groups and assemblies,
Needs also its critics and challengers
To lift upraised hands against the lemming-like yea-sayers
And tell them why they should stop.

Society needs its loners, too;
Those who soberly drop out
From elements of the 300-million-strong social rat race
That either their ideals or their psychology simply cannot accept.

This modern world needs its emotional critics, too,
Who will feel however they will, and not as society says,
Being Hamlets in the face of a din of Pollyannas,
True to their own emotional selves.

As soon as I finish finding out who I am,
I will find my place more firmly in this countercurrent,
And more confidently measure myself
Less and less in dollar signs, job descriptions, or relationship life.
In the meantime, a semi-reasonable facsimile of me
Will continue to do what seems to be a semi-true-to-life job
Of marching to his own drum.

— March 1, 2009

Outcasts in the name of gOd

The Hindus took racism
Against natives of darker hue
And made it a religious crime.
Their four-tiered socio-religious totem pole
Had the grunts of manual labor at the bottom,
But, left without even a pole to pose on
Were, and still are today,
The shittiest workers of Indian society,
Pun intended –
Out-castes.
Untouchables in their alleged contamination,
Calling them harijan, or the lOrd’s children
As a Gandhian absolution
Is no absolution for a stain, a blot,
On the very core of Hindu thought.

God told Saul, “Kill the Amalekites!”
And not just the adults, but the seven children
That went along with each adult family,
And not just the children,
But the seven livestock the adults had
For each of their children.
No Amalekites would be allowed to go to St. Ives,
Or Hebron, or Shechem, or Shiloh,
As the world’s first recorded Holocaust
Was perpetuated by Jews and not against them.

In the American South, in the land of cotton,
Old bible passages were not forgotten
But were twisted, to look away from the evil
Of black slavery in Dixie land.
No, no, worse than that;
Twisted to justify slavery as a redeeming,
Christianizing uplift,
For alleged children of Canaan,
Smitten by the curse of Ham.
People who wished they had not been born in Dixie
Were told it was for their own good,
And in fulfillment of the word of gOd.
Oh, ye cursed of Ham!

No wonder that Sunday morning
Is still the most segregated hour in America;
No wonder that Indian outcastes
Have their own political party;
No wonder that right-wing Israeli Jews
Talk of an Arab-rein Eretz Yisrael.
The real wonder is that blacks didn’t become atheists
Long before the Nation of Islam,
Or that the Dalits, oppressed outcastes, aren’t all Buddhist, or Christian,
Or that some Arabs still participate in Israeli political life.

Were a god actually to exist, he would be mocked by his own alleged words.