July 23: Daniel Radcliffe (1989)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 23, 2014 by RJ Evans

RadcliffeDanielFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 23, 1989, that the English actor known for a 10-year run as the title character in the Harry Potter films, Daniel Radcliffe was born Daniel Jacob Radcliffe in Fulham, London. Radcliffe made his acting debut at age 10 in the title role of BBC One’s television movie David Copperfield (1999), followed by his film debut in the John le Carré spy film The Tailor of Panama (2001). In addition to the seven or eight Harry Potter films, depending on whether you count the two-part Deathly Hallows finale as one or two films (2001-2011), Radcliffe appeared in the 2007 London and New York revivals of the Peter Shaffer play Equus (only some of its popularity sparked by Radcliffe appearing nude!) and as the lead in the 2011 Broadway revival of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Other films include a horror picture, The Woman in Black (2012), as the 1950s beat poet Alan Ginsberg in the thriller, Kill Your Darlings (2013) and as the son of Rudyard Kipling in the TV movie My Boy Jack (2007).

Radcliffe has spoken out against homophobia and promoted awareness of gay teen suicide prevention, saying in a 2010 interview, “I have always hated anybody who is not tolerant of gay men or lesbians or bisexuals. Now I am in the very fortunate position where I can actually help or do something about it.” He has donated to charities commemorating Holocaust survivors and to fighting HIV/AIDS.

Of his upbringing, Radcliffe said in a 2012 interview, “There was never [religious] faith in the house. I think of myself as being Jewish and Irish, despite the fact that I’m English.” He has also said, “I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation,” and that he is “very proud of being Jewish.” Christian conservatives, already suspicious of the pagan orientation of the Harry Potter books and films, were even more dismayed when, in an interview promoting the 2009 release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe said, “I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do.”

July 22: Gregor Johann Mendel (1822)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 22, 2014 by RJ Evans

mendelFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 22, 1822, that Moravian monk and amateur botanist Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Heinzendorf (now Hynice), a tiny village in Austrian Silesia, which was then under Hapsburg rule. A peasant with a passion for learning, owing to the poverty of his family, Mendel noviced at the Abbey of St. Thomas at what is now Brno, Czech Republic, in 1843, and was ordained in 1847. He entered the Augustinian Monastery in Brno, which allowed Mendel to study mathematics and science at the University of Vienna. He taught for several years, but eventually gave that up to become abbot of his monastery.

It was in the monastic garden that Mendel made the first experiments in cross-breeding pea plants, combining botany with his mathematical knowledge to produce predictions about dominant and recessive traits. He published the founding theories of genetics before genes were ever discovered, and his researches would have jump-started the science of genetics had not his 1866 paper, Experiments in Plant Hybridization, passed into oblivion because it was published only in the backwater of Brno, and had no champion, like Darwin his Huxley. Difficulty in getting his theory noticed was due also to a lack of mathematical literacy in the field of botany. Mendel’s theories were rediscovered posthumously in 1900 by Hugo de Vries (1848-1935) in Holland, Carl Correns (1864-1933) in Germany, and Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg (1871-1962) in Austria – and by courtesy his name is given to Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.

Popular writers, such as the website St. Francis Online, say Freethinkers forget to mention, among scientists, “Christians whose faith supported them in their scientific endeavors, like Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur and Gregor Mendel.”* This is a truly bizarre criticism: Pascal was seriously ill all of his life and the work on which we judge his religious beliefs was published only after his death, with modifications to make him appear orthodox. Pasteur was a Rationalist all his life.

As for Gregor Mendel, this so-called “devoted monk,”** and “great Catholic scientist” is not even claimed by the (new) Catholic Encyclopedia. His biographer, Hugo Iltis, was a relative, and in the German original of his 1924 Life of Mendel he gives evidence that Mendel was seriously anti-Christian in his youth and remained skeptical all his life. Mendel wrote an aggressively Rationalist poem, speaking of “the gloomy powers of superstition which now oppress the world,” two years before entering the monastery.

And how did he end up in a monastery? Iltis shows that Mendel became a monk only to get leisure to study. He shirked his priestly duties whenever he could, and remained a skeptic (that is, a Deist). Failing eyesight and his duties as abbot distracted Mendel from his researches – so much the worse for science. Even after he became abbot, however, he read and annotated Darwin’s Origin of Species and accepted evolution, something no orthodox Catholic was allowed to do at the time. Mendel’s researches supplanted the dominance of Darwin’s idea that evolution occurred by random mutation, complementing it with the theory of inheritance of dominant characteristics.

It is one of the ironies of science history that Darwin was never aware of Mendel’s discoveries – which would have provided a much-needed “missing link” of support for evolutionary theory!

* St. Francis Bookshop Online (Catholic)
** Bible Believers.Net (Fundamentalist Protestant)

July 14: Bastille Day (1789)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 14, 2014 by RJ Evans

StormingBastilleFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 14, 1789, in the morning, that French citizens stormed and destroyed the hated Bastille prison in Paris, ending a symbol of the human rights abuses by King Louis XVI—who had in fact supported the American colonists in their quest for independence from Great Britain—and beginning the French Revolution. Bastille, means “bastion” or “castle”; it was a structure built in the 14th century to defend the eastern approach to the city of Paris from the English threat in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453); it is known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. Louis XIV used the Bastille as a prison for those had opposed or angered him, including upper-class members of French society and, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, French Protestants, but also to hold those who had differed with him on matters of religion.

The destruction of the Bastille marked the end of absolute monarchy in France—Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793—and signaled the birth of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens and, eventually, the creation of the First Republic. The French Revolution achieved popular support among the peasants and nobles, and even a few priests, because of a cruel tyranny under Church and State that kept the populace at 90% illiteracy, oppressed them with taxes and denied them property ownership—a dangerous income inequality not unlike that increasing in the United States today. To their credit, the leaders of the Revolution took no office in the succeeding government after 1791. Still, the new Constitution treated the luxuriously and cynically corrupt Catholic Church better than it had treated the people. Of course the Church claimed religious oppression because they could no longer oppress the people as they used to—again, not unlike the whining of churches in the U.S. today.

Bastille Day, called simply Le quatorze juillet by natives (cf. “Fourth of July” for Independence Day in the U.S.), was declared the French national holiday, La Fête Nationale, on 6 July 1880. It celebrates not only the storming of the Bastille in 1789, commemorated in a painting of that same year by a contemporary, Jean-Pierre Houël, and later by Austrian composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf in his Symphony in C Major and by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, but also celebrates the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790. Celebrations of Bastille Day are held all over France to this day. They are, and always have been, secular.

July 12: Government-Sponsored Prayer (1995)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 12, 2014 by RJ Evans

prayerFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 12, 1995, that President Bill Clinton, in a talk to students at James Madison High School in Vienna, VA, advocated school-prayer guidelines. He said in part, “nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools to religion-free zones or requires all religious expression to be left at the schoolhouse door.”

In response, that August, the Department of Education issued a memo to public school superintendents concerning religious freedom. The Department advised that students cannot engage in religiously motivated harassment; that no student can be coerced into participating in any religious activity; that teachers and administrators cannot discourage or promote religious, or anti-religious, activity; that schools can teach about religion, but may not provide religious instruction; and that schools can teach about common civic values, but they must be neutral with respect to religion.

Not satisfied with neutrality, three months later (November 1995) Oklahoma Republican Congressman Ernest Istook, supported by the Christian Coalition and others, introduced a Constitutional amendment allowing state-sponsored prayer in public schools. Istook’s attack on the First Amendment died on 4 June 1998. But religion never gives up: a back-door attempt to inject prayer into public school had already made the rounds a decade earlier via a “moment of silence” proposal being proffered. An Alabama law authorized teachers to set aside one minute at the start of each day for a moment of “meditation or voluntary prayer.” In 1982, a parent of three public school children objected and took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1985, in a majority opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court ruled, 6-3 (Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985)), that the Alabama law violated the First Amendment, in that the purpose of the “moment of silence” was clearly to endorse religion, and that the enactment of the statute was not motivated by any clearly secular purpose. Strangely, in dissent, Chief Justice Burger cited the supposed secular purpose of including “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance!

It must be pointed out that many conservative Christians, and others, promote prayer in public schools because they believe that if students start the day with a prayer, then they will behave in a more “spiritual” (or ethical) manner the rest of the day. But this assertion is unproven in the positive and disproven in the negative: for example, U.S. prison populations are over 98% believers—and most of them are Christian. Furthermore, as elucidated in Wallace v. Jaffree, many schools have entire class periods dedicated to silent study, which can equally be used for silent prayer or meditation; “moment of silence” laws are unnecessary because a student can pray or meditate on his/her own without an official moment; and, as Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says, “Students were already allowed to pray, meditate, or reflect under the statute before it was amended. The addition of the word ‘pray’ where it wasn’t needed clearly shows that legislators intended to promote religion, and that’s not their job.”

The obvious observation is that the proposed remedy must address some actual problem: if the “problem” is that students are not praying enough, that is, they are not talking to an invisible, supernatural being who can grant their wishes, are the churches doing so poorly that they have to ask the state to coerce a captive audience? If the problem is not enough time for silent reflection during the day, it would seem not to affect just children—so why is a “moment of silence” not also mandated at work?

Skeptical wags have suggested, considering the state of U.S. education compared with other western countries—by 2012 statistics, 29th in mathematics and 22nd in science—that, instead of a moment of silence, the U.S. needs a moment of science!

July 11: Excommunication (1533)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 11, 2014 by RJ Evans

ExcommunicatingFrederickIIFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 11, 1533, that Pope Clement VII (pope from 1523-1534) excommunicated England’s King Henry VIII (king from 1509-1547). By Henry’s time the cutting tool of excommunication had lost some of its edge. Of course, any group has the right to expel a member, but the Catholic doctrine then leaves no recourse for avoiding eternal damnation.

What is excommunication? In Roman Catholicism, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, excommunication—from Latin ex, out of, and communion, communion—literally means “exclusion from the communion.” That is, as “the most serious penalty that the Church can inflict,” excommunication “deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society” and requires of the society to shun the excommunicate for his or her “obstinate disobedience.” The punishment is meant to be an incentive to return to the spiritual society, rather than being a permanent expulsion from it. Excommunication is distinguished from anathema in that excommunication separates you from the community; anathema separates you from the Church. Oddly, even if you are excommunicated—even if you avow atheism—you are still considered a Catholic!

As was common with other church doctrines, excommunication was first exercised in Apostolic times to punish heresy or serious misconduct. In the Middle Ages, the Papacy abused it freely and frequently for political advantage—so much so that a bishop would excommunicate a thief who stole his property! The chief disadvantage for an excommunicated monarch was that his or her subjects are released from their obligation of loyalty to the crown. Indeed, there is a venerable collection of kings, queens, individuals and groups who suffered and more or less survived excommunication:

In the first century, Simon Magus (for whom simony was named, that is selling church offices) was excommunicated; in the second century, Valentinus, a proponent of Gnosticism; in the fourth century, Arius, founder of Arian heresy; in the fifth century, Nestorius, proponent of the Nestorian heresy and Eutyches, the proponent of the Monophysite heresy; in the 11th century, Philip I, king of France, for repudiating his marriage and remarrying; in the 12th century, Frederick I Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor (for favoring Victor IV as legitimate pope over Alexander III) and, more famously, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, bishop of Salisbury, for crowning the heir-apparent Henry at York, thereby usurping Canterbury’s privileges; in the 13th century, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, four times, for fighting with the pope (Gregory IX called him “the antichrist”); in the 14th century, King Philip the Fair of France for failing to respond adequately to Pope Boniface VIII’s letter regarding Philip’s effective rejection of the pope’s temporal authority; in the 15th century a trifecta: Joan of Arc, Jan Hus, founder of the Hussite heresy, and Girolamo Savonarola (also hanged and burned).

ExcommunicationCeremonyBut that was nothing like the 16th century: in addition to Henry VIII, his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, was excommunicated in 1570 by the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis—probably the only case of a father and daughter both being so judged by the Roman Church; Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther in 1520; Thomas Erastus, founder of the Erastian heresy; and Henry IV of France and Navarre, who famously retaliated by “excommunicating” the Pope (Henry later converted to Catholicism and had his excommunication lifted); in the 18th century, all Catholic members of Freemasonry and most supporters of Jansenism were excommunicated; in the 19th century, Napoleon was excommunicated for ordering the annexation of Rome, as well as Catholics who denied the new doctrine of papal infallibility; and in the 20th century, John XXIII may or may not have excommunicated Fidel Castro for preaching communism and supporting a communist government; Argentine dictator Juan Perón was excommunicated after ordering the expulsion of two bishops; the French scholar Alfred Loisy was excommunicated for being associated with modernism; and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was excommunicated for marrying Aristotle Onassis.

In other religions, excommunication may involve banishment, shunning (for example, the Amish), disfellowship (some Protestant denominations) and shaming. In Islam, excommunication as such does not exist: Islam does not reject anybody, but instead considers that person to have rejected Islam and therefore is judged takfir and therefore kafir, or a nonbeliever—and nonbelievers can be summarily murdered. In Judaism, the highest ecclesiastical censure is called chērem (חרם), or the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community, but this has not been used since The Enlightenment.

The Christian fatwa, like putting a book on the Index of Prohibited Books, is rarely used in these skeptical times—and for two good reasons. First, the action would serve to publicize rather than to preclude dissent. And second, only in the most conservative communities would anyone take the sentence seriously. In the case of King Henry, even in the 16th century it was possible for him to ignore the Pope and turn to his own religion—which turned out to be a major blunder on the part of Clement VII, and a serious loss for Roman Catholicism.

“…A Minefield” – The Zealotry Continues

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2014 by RJ Evans

christianfascismprisoner-e

Another serious blow to Separation of Church and State has been delivered by SCOTUS. In a 5-4 decision, the conservatives on the court have become the Mullahs issuing another fahtwa from their divinely inspired vulture perch. The dark ages will return. Not only are corporations people… They are also churches. As I mentioned in a previous post

Rest assured that every fundamentalist wingnut in America is hailing this ruling as a victory for their imaginary friend, and for their dastardly plans of turning our formerly Democratic Republic, now oligarchy, into a theocratic, neo-fascist, oligarchy. Beware! The talibangelicals will be storming into all of our government and public facilities carrying their crosses while wrapped tightly in the flag… a flag that they have thoroughly desecrated with the dung of their religious zealotry.”

And so, it continues as I predicted. When will it end? I’m afraid there’s much more to come. Under the guise of “Religious Freedom” and  “Religious Liberty” the hammer has fallen on American freedom. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said it best in her dissent…

“The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield…”

Drones – You Arrogant, Self-Centered Pricks! You Really Think You’re Being Spied On?

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2014 by RJ Evans

According to mainstream media, we’re being invaded. No. Not by muslim extremists, or Russians, or illegal aliens from south of the border. No. We’re being attacked from above by “peeping toms” with “DRONES!” And, according to the media, private citizens are being SPIED on, their privacy INVADED by these demonic, big brother, machines of death! (Cue the ominous music and enjoy a photo of one of these hellish invaders)

PHANTOM II VISION PLUS

Meet the DJI Phantom 2 Vision +. I just happened to purchase the above marvel of flying technology a few weeks ago. It’s nimble, easy to fly, takes great photos (14 megapixel), and shoots HD video at 1080p @ 30fps, or 720p @ 60fps (for slow motion). I’ve been a photographer for many years, and I also dabble in videos/movies/web series television. So, for me the DJI Phantom 2 Vision + is a great way to expand my repertoire of visual perspectives and creativity. But, I’ve found a real problem with delving into the realm of aerial photography. At this very moment, the media is painting these machines as “peeping toms”, “aerial spying platforms”, “invaders of privacy” and other such nonsense. Add to this the fact that the use of the word “drone” was originally heavily applied by the media to describe autonomous and piloted airborne military aircraft that are armed, and responsible for death and destruction overseas. And well… But. there’s more! Military and Law Enforcement use of “drones” for surveillance!

He’s PERVING ME!!

So, what are the results of all this media hype? How about a ban on “drones” in National Parks? Yes, taking photographs and videos from aloft in a National Park is now forbidden! How about this… The public perception that anything flying around is out to spy on them? Take this story for example… A woman in Seattle saw a “drone” outside her building and was afraid it was peeping in her window. What the story fails to tell the reader is that men were hired to shoot video of the property next door and were in the process of doing that. Here’s another example… A young man was shooting video from his “drone” at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut and was attacked by a crazed woman who thought the kid was “perving” on her.

PANIC!!!

“DRONES!!!!!! QUICK! HIDE! THEY’RE COMING TO TAKE OUR GUNS AND OUR BIBLES!!! THEY’LL STEAL AWAY OUR RIGHT TO PRIVACY!!! THEY”RE LOOKING UP MY WIFE’S SKIRT!!!! FUCKING PERVERTS!!!!”

The FACTS

I’m going to lay out a few facts about “drones”. First off, the word “drone” does NOT apply to hobbyist quad-copters for the most part. I use the word “quad-copter” interchangeably with “UAV” (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). “Drone” is a bad word as far as I’m concerned. There’s far too much baggage associated with the word. Hobbyists, and even commercial endeavors don’t need the absurd media misuse of the word associated with our aircraft.

From dictionary.com

Drone

-an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight-

Hobbyist quad-copters have operators at the controls and they are flown line of sight. There are some UAV’s (including mine) that have the ability to use programmed way-points for navigation. BUT, the operator is still required to maintain line of sight with the aircraft, and the operator must be able to override the navigation program at any time, instantly returning the aircraft to manual operation. More importantly, hobbyist quad-copter pilots are limited to a maximum altitude of 400 feet, and there are restrictions on flying within a certain distance of airports. The DJI Phantom II Vision + is programmed such that it will not fly within a certain distance of an airport.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I can set way-points.  So, what keeps me from navigating out of line of sight? First off, safety. I don’t want to injure anyone or cause damage to property in the event of a mechanical failure. Second, $1300 + worth of aircraft. I have a great deal of money and time invested. Third, I want to SEE the video or pictures I’m shooting in real-time. That’s how I set up the shot. I can see what the camera sees. I can frame the shot. I’m limited by WiFi distance. And, more than that, the shot is captured on a mini-SD card on the copter!

Evans3

BUT… BUT… YOU’RE GONNA SPY ON ME!!!

The biggest concern the public seems to have regarding UAV’s can be summed up in one sentence…

“THEY’RE SPYING ON ME!!!”

I have a simple response to that. You arrogant, self-centered pricks! You really think you’re being spied on? Consider this… Two thirds of Americans own smart phones. The number of photos taken in public spaces is most likely staggering. And of the photos taken, a large percentage were likely taken without the permission of some of the people captured in the photo. They are the background extras of public life, on public streets, at public gatherings, doing what people do. Now, translate this fact to the UAV phenomena. Two thirds of Americans don’t own UAV’s. Then there’s the noise. Consider that the UAV is powered by at least one motor. Generally three or four. But, a motor nonetheless. Usually they are electric motors and as such are quieter than gas powered motors by far. However, even with an electric motor, there is some noise. Add a few props chopping through the air, and presuming the air is absolutely still, it’s still making lots of noise. My Phantom 2 Vision + is noisy! I thought it was a prerequisite for a spy to use stealth? Right? Unless you’re deaf, or really fucking dumb, you’re going to hear it! At 50-100 feet altitude and 30 feet horizontal distance, I can hear my DJI quite well. It sounds like a hornet nest!! Now… Remember the line of sight requirement? I’m restricted on how far I can fly from my location by a little thing called eyesight. I’m 52. I need glasses. I’m not going to be flying miles away let alone 1200-1500 feet horizontal and 400 feet (max altitude). The camera? Real-time. But, it’s range is limited by the WiFi connection to the copter, as I mentioned before. And, once again, it’s NOT miles. In fact, it’s range is LESS than the range of the copter to the controller.

BUT… BUT… You might not SPY on me… But someone else might!!!

Most hobbyists and commercial endeavors aren’t interested in spying on anyone. As I mentioned in the last segment, there are more smart-phone photos being taken without folks knowledge than you can imagine. But, there’s an additional point I’d like to make about the UAV in the hands of hobbyists and commercial pilots. Whether flying for fun, or for a job, the UAV pilot is interested in creating a visual diary. Whether its a photographic/video panorama, a photographic/video inspection of a building, or property, or delivering goods, making a movie, whatever… Most operators are responsible individuals who are passionate, meticulous, and safe in what they do. Yes, there are those who will abuse the platform, just as there are those who abuse the smart-phone camera. However, the abusers are NOT a majority of UAV pilots. They are a minority. And, of course, they must be held accountable.

BUT… BUT…

Unreasonable fear, stoked by the moronic media, and born of a governmental intrusion into the lives of Americans (drone attacks on “enemies” abroad, the NSA, the Patriot Act, etc.) must be tempered. If there’s a finger to be pointed here, it should be pointed directly at Federal, State and Local Law enforcement agencies, our lawmakers, and at ourselves. The “Surveillance State” doesn’t exist in the public sector or the commercial sector. And, it doesn’t come with the advertising of noisy rotors and visible operators piloting their UAV’s over a beach, or park, or downtown building. The “Surveillance State” is silent, stealthy, unobserved. It is backed by HUGE sums of tax dollars misspent by people who hide in the shadows and think the Constitution is a joke. The “Surveillance State” has technology that is anything and everything but an HD camera. And, it doesn’t need to fly above your head to see what you’re doing. It’s everywhere.

BUT…

Look at the picture below. Do you see me? If you do, would you have known it was me if I hadn’t told you I was there? If you didn’t know me, had never read this article, and saw a man there, would you know exactly who I was… Even if I was naked? Now, look at the beauty of the photo as a whole. If you can see that, then you will understand.

Evans2

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 155 other followers

%d bloggers like this: