Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show from: Oct. 28, 2009

Here are the links for the news articles from the show this week:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Show From: Oct. 14, 2009 (ABORTION RANT)

Abortion Rant

So, my topic for this week is abortion. This can be a touchy subject, and my particular viewpoints will not make the subject much easier to swallow. All the same, I ask you to hear me out to the end, as the final reasoning of my ideas make the face of my beliefs seem less extreme, or so I believe.
I do not have a problem with abortion, far from it. I fully support abortion, for any reason, of any unborn fetus. I believe that the happiness of any functioning human far outweighs any concern for what is no more than a small mass of cells.
And here comes the doozy: I support something that I term a “fourth trimester abortion.” Think about that for a second. Yes, I said it. I support the deliberate putting-to-death of an infant, up to three months after birth, in cases were the child is significantly mentally or physically disabled, to the point where we could reasonably determine that the negative experiences of their life would outweigh the positive ones.
You see, I put value on sentience—the power of experiencing sensation and feelings. With sentience we have the only thing that truly matters: the basis for the human condition, the ability to experience pain and experience joy. I do value different lives in different ways. Allow me to illustrate. In the hypothetical situation of choosing to save either the five year old or the fifteen year old, I choose the fifteen year old. Why? First, on the personal basis of the teen: he or she has the heightened ability to understand the value of life, and is in greater fear of death. They are fully conscious of the pain they will face and are able to consider the existential questions of what happens when I die, which add to the fear. They have formed connections and have memories, all of which they will b even more distraught to lose. Furthermore, the teen has had ten more years during which they have interacted with others, forming bonds with many more persons than the child. In this way, the death of the teen will cause significantly more people to grieve his loss. Returnging to the five year old, we must consider that they do not have the higher thinking ability and will not be able to consider the greater consequences of his or her death. The experience for them is significantly less traumatizing in this way. And, paralleling my example with the teen, the child does not have many connections to the people around them, and those they have been with have not had as much time to form as concrete bonds as the teen has. For someone like me, who values the greatest positivity in the world and the least negativity, there is a great difference in the value of a life.
But there are exceptions to this idea I have. What if the five year old is a child prodigy and the teenager is a severely handicapped person whose constant situation is to experience discomfort? In that case, who I save switches. Everything comes down to: how much positivity can we allow in the world and how much negativity can we prevent?
I save the adult over the child, the child over the dog, the dog over the ant, the ant over the amoeba. Descending levels of sentience, descending levels of value.
When it comes to destroying a fetus, we can be relatively certain that it has no emotional cognition. For that, you need a reference point. You need to know what sets off the pleasure center of your brain versus the pain center; you need to understand the value of being conscious before you can begin to concern yourself with the vagaries of the possibility of never being conscious again. Fetuses lack al of this. Therefore, their destruction leads to no positive or negative emotion from the fetus itself. Therefore, if the mother is made happy by the fetus’s destruction then we have introduced more positive emotion into the world.
Now, to defend my position on the so-called fourth trimester abortion, I say this: some abortions are too dangerous to do inside the womb, and some disabilities are not discovered until a little while after the child is born. Before the child grows up and has experiences, and begins to develop those reference points that allow them to begin to understand and better feel pain and terror, we could determine, somehow, if the child’s disability would lead to a significantly negative life. We draw an arbitrary line at three months so as to prevent things going out of control. This allows time for the child’s condition to develop and for the family and physicians to discuss the options and the child’s proposed quality of life. If the parents choose to keep the child and raise it as best they can, then alright. If the parents choose to be humane and allow the child to be killed, all the better. There is enough suffering in the world. Let’s stop some of it before it has a chance to get started.
Now I will discuss a few counterpoints. The biggest argument I hear is the “life begins at conception” idea. Any religiously based defenses of this are dismissed out of hand. People say that a fetus is human and humans have rights, therefore fetus’s have rights, QED. This particular argument is fundamentally flawed, and is easily demonstrated as such. First off, humans do not inherently have rights because we are human. Our governments and our society affords us that. Beyond that, we know that merely being human does not give you equal rights to every other human within the same social or political environment. Humans are given different rights based on a variety of different factors. You get sent to jail, you loose some rights. You’re born a male, you lose the right to enter a women’s room. You turn eighteen you earn the right to vote; you turn twenty-one you earn the right to drink alcohol. If you are born Native American you are given the right to cultivate an otherwise highly illegal substance. And, for the most part, if you are unborn, you have no right to life. There is nothing inherent in one’s genetic composition that affords it any rights.
And don’t give me the adoption argument. There are too many children needing to be adopted as is in this world. We don’t need any more.
The other big objection I hear is that of what I will call the “Baby Mozart Fallacy,” this idea that just because the child could turn out to be the next Mozart that it needs to live. First off, this argument dies when you propose that the fetus could also turn out to be the next Jeffery Dahmer. Secondly, potential proves nothing. It is not a real positive effect on the world, but an imagined one. And thirdly, the potentiality argument is shown to be a bit absurd when we consider that every one of my own ejaculations has the potential to be a person. Should I run to a sperm bank every time I need to masturbate? Should every woman, from the moment she begins to menstruate be required to conceive, lest she deposit hundreds of little potential Johnnies and Janies onto little Kotex pads over the course of her life? How would we even keep up with all that potential, what with the millions of viable sperm in every ejaculation and the severe dearth of women to accomadate that. Theoretically, I could produce enough sperm to bless every fertile woman on Earth with a little Edwin Jr. But then what about the potential of my co-host’s sperm? Granted, I may be taking this argument on a small trip down a slippery slope, but I’m trying to prove the point that you can put the moment of potential at any point on the line. Some people just want to place that arbitrary moment at the point when the sperm and the egg come together. I say, potentiality is imaginary, and is therefore insufficient to base legislation on.
To sum up my argument: if a woman wants to kill anything in her womb, even just for kicks, I say go for it. If the child has been born and a handicap that we could reasonably determine to cause more pain than joy can be identified within three months of the birth I say allow the parents to terminate the child. In my heart of hearts I’d honestly say we should require it.

Show from Oct. 21, 2009

I apologize for taking so long to put the shows up on iTunes and get these show notes out. Everything should be finished uploading by tomorrow evening.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Show From : Sept. 30, 2009

This is the script from the September 30, 2009 show. It includes Godless Wisdom and the news items.

Today we have an article from Search Magazine by Sam Kean entitled “Open to Revisions.”

Sam Webster has serious tech credentials. He has lived for decades in the San Francisco Bay area, a techie Mecca. Back in the early 1990s, before most people had even heard of the Internet, he was writing code for some of the early sites on the World Wide Web. He’s now a systems analyst, or, as he says, “I’m a geek for a living.”
What Webster never envisioned himself as was a prophet. He’d been involved in a pagan group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (left) since the early 1980s, and in February 2001, he decided to hold a workshop on his religion in the Bay area. “I never thought it would catch on,” he admits, but people took a shine to the order. They decided to establish a permanent chapter in northern California.
At the same time, Webster and his fellows were itching to remake themselves. The Hermetic Order grew out of Free Masonry and Kabbalah, a school of Jewish mysticism. “But we didn’t want to do the traditional things like adhere to secrecy,” Webster says. The group also wanted to incorporate practices from other mainstream faiths, include women in their mix, and, perhaps most important, put a mechanism in place to make room for good ideas in the future. So the group self-consciously decided to involve its members by encouraging them to tinker with the order’s structure and practices. And that’s the moment when Webster realized his dual role as geek and prophet.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a name for this’,” Webster remembers. “Open source.”
Open-source religion is an amalgamation of two ways of thinking about the world. The first is religion, a common set of practices, rituals, and beliefs. It’s as old as the hills, one of the most enduring traits of humankind. The “open source” component is new, an unforeseen consequence of the Internet revolution of the 1990s. It’s a reference to open-source computer code, code that anyone is allowed to rewrite, add to, or delete. Most websites or blogs are not open source, because even when the pages change frequently, a handful of people at most make all the changes. Wikipedia is open source because many people collaborate to produce one common text.
The best-known example of open-source software is Linux, an operating system released in 1991 by a Finn name Linus Torvalds. Unlike Microsoft XP or the Macintosh OS, Linux is free. The latest versions of it represent the fruit of millions of man-hours of labor—people poring over arcane code to improve Linux’s security, compatibility, aesthetics, speed, etc., without any hope of compensation or gain. And by many measures Linux performs better than its for-profit competitors: So many eyes have gone over the code, it’s unlikely anything has been overlooked. Linux also draws on more people for ideas, and it’s easier to incorporate good ideas into Linux because users don’t have to wait for a corporation to roll out a new product. They can download a patch from the Internet in minutes.
So why doesn’t everyone use Linux? Perhaps because it’s unfamiliar, even scary, and for things they’re unfamiliar with, people prefer to trust experts and professionals. They often mistrust the idea of mass participation. The same holds true for religion. In dealing with supernatural or spiritual phenomena, rabbis and priests and medicine men who can draw on pre-existing faith traditions can provide comfort that newer, changeable religions cannot. (If nothing else, how often do people convince themselves of something by saying, “It’s ancient wisdom. The so-and-so peoples have been doing this for thousands of years?”)
But adherents of open-source religion note that tradition can calcify into dogma, and if there’s one common trait to people who practice open-source religion, it’s distaste for dogma. Some open-source believers want to found entirely new religions, and some merely want to reinvigorate a mainstream faith. All want to change people’s perceptions of religion from something that’s handed down to them, something they receive, and make religion something people do. All religions evolve, of course, but the tinkering inherent to open-source religions can benefit founders and followers alike, Webster says. “When you share what you learn, you learn better,” he notes, “and the content evolves that much more efficiently.”
For an example of how open-source religions work in practice, Douglas Rushkoff, founder of the Open Source Judaism movement, cited a project he started around the Haggadah, the Jewish text that lays out the practices of the Passover Seder meal and all the associated prayers and family rituals.
Rushkoff first approached open-source Judaism more from the techie side than the religious side. He was both inspired by the possibilities of widespread, democratic, participatory media like the Internet, but also fearful that the Internet could be used to manipulate people or invade their privacy on an unprecedented scale.
So, he says, he looked for “historical examples of how people had dealt with media before, ethical templates,” and he found some examples in his own religion. He was most excited about flexible templates that people could alter as they needed, and this led directly to open-source Haggadah. Rushkoff set up a website for Jews to upload pictures, prayers, and descriptions of their Seder meals, encouraging people to adapt the practices however they wanted.
It’s a modest example, but it’s actually a good test of the viability of open-source practices in religions. Among the areas of Judaism appropriate for open-source revisions, Rushkoff cited Torah commentary as the most obvious example. (He also cited interfaith studies, including the study of how Judaism originated in relation to other religions.) One area of Judaism not amenable to open-source change, he discovered, was ritual practices. This surprised Rushkoff, since he supposed that actions were less intrinsically part of a person’s religion than beliefs, but he says, “people really depend on it for some reason. People are much less likely to engage in ritual in a do-it-yourself fashion.”
This observation seems borne out on the Open Source Haggadah website. It’s impossible to say how many people downloaded texts and adapted them privately, and the site’s webmaster notes that financial and technical limitations have curbed the site’s impact, but beyond the basic, traditional Haggadah, few people bothered posting additional ideas or commentary. These days, much of the site’s activity has migrated to projects run by affiliated groups such as Matzat and Jew-It-Yourself.
Webster agreed that in his Golden Dawn Order, rituals often don’t change much once they get set, remaining rather conservative. “We have some rituals that are pretty honed,” he says. He gave the example of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, an invocation that links the four cardinal directions and the archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, and which has existed for centuries. But honed doesn’t mean inflexible, Webster adds. “We approach it like it’s a really good recipe, but you might add a little bit of cinnamon or cheese.” In the Pentagram ritual, the “cinnamon or cheese” substitutions might mean invoking a different set of sacred figures than the archangels, for instance.
Limitations aside, followers say that Judaism and paganism are among the religions most amenable to open-source practices. In Judaism, that springs from both the participatory nature of Talmud commentary and the early history of the religion, says Rushkoff. “The more I looked at Judaism, it was largely the result of the invention of text, a religion based on the contract-covenant, writing your own laws instead of living according to preexisting laws.” He sees no reason why Jews today cannot continue to write their own laws. In fact, he feels that “institutional Judaism” often betrays that original ideal.
As for paganism (or “neopaganism,” as the modern practice is called; symbols of modern pagans are shown to the left) some scholars also see an open-source ethos built directly into its foundation. In an essay titled “Learning about Paganism,” scholar Helen Berger traces the constant revision of neopaganism to its not being “a religion of ‘The Book,’ but of [many] books,” from which people could select what suited them. She added that “most American neopagans are solitary practitioners” who can adopt new practices more readily than larger groups can.
Douglas Cowen, in his book Cyberhenge, goes even further, making an explicit analogy to computer coding: “Pagans are ‘hacking’ their own religious traditions out of the ‘source codes’ provided by pantheons, faith practices, liturgies, rituals, and divinatory practices drawn from a variety of cultures worldwide.” Given all that “hacking,” it’s no wonder that, as Webster says, “There are a huge number of pagan people in the high-tech space.”
Rushkoff and especially Webster talk about transforming their religious inheritance by updating it with new knowledge and ideas. Other people who practice open-source religion have much different intentions—some aim to found entirely new religions, others simply to tweak a mainstream religion and make it more relevant for the modern world.
Andrew Perriman falls into the latter set, having, as he says “come out of a fairly normal evangelical background” in Great Britain. “‘Open source’ in this instance is really only a metaphor for a much more transparent and collaborative approach to doing theology within what is to my mind still a mainstream Christian tradition.”
Perriman started a website called after noticing that the modern evangelical movement was rebelling against “pre-packaged” theology in much the same way that Linux users rebelled against pre-written software from Microsoft. “People feel they’ve been told how to think, and feel they don’t have much scope to think for themselves,” he says. That view of theology as closed off is particularly true in Europe, he adds, “where people regard Christianity as a historical disaster. If [Christianity] has a future at all it will require quite a radical rethinking of what this faith narrative means, going to back to the biblical story and asking how we can re-appropriate it.”
Perriman’s approach to open-source religion, then, might be best described as legalistic. In the modern jurisprudence system, process is everything: Even when we “know” somebody is guilty or innocent, he still has to stand trial, and trials are judged as fair if the correct procedure is followed throughout. In other words, the process gets privilege over the end result and verdict of the trial.
Perriman, who has a Ph.D. in theology and works as an independent writer and theologian, thinks theology should work the same way. Unlike what most people believe, “Theology is not a set of beliefs, it’s a shared mindset,” he argues. And revising theology through open-source means is “more an issue of methodology than [of challenging] a particular point of content.”
As a result, Perriman cannot yet point to any doctrinal changes that open-source Christianity has brought about. At the same time, he said, especially compared with the authoritarian traditions of evangelical Christianity, “It’s significant that people feel they can explore [changes] without transgressing in some horrible way that will get them thrown out of the church.”
Perriman’s is one view of what open-source religion can do: Get people involved, even if not much changes about their faith in the end. Those interested in founding new religions, which lack a coherent, pre-established body of beliefs and practices, take a different view. Daniel Kriegman, founder of a new religion called Yoism, stresses that content and process have to work together in a fledgling movement because many things will likely change at the beginning. “It’s extremely important what you end up with, since it has to comport to everyone’s experience. Content has to be something we convincingly believe.”
Kriegman works as a psychologist and has long studied the interplay of psychology, evolutionary biology, and religion. And after years of inquiry, he has some rather strong views about the dangers of traditional religions. “Human history is the history of mass murders,” he said, “and it all seems to be organized about these crazy belief systems.” When he really gets going on the topic, Kriegman likes to make gorilla noises for emphasis, which to him are the onomatopoeic embodiment of dangerous groupthink. About old-time religion, he says, “This way of knitting together a group into an ideological system and going ‘oo-oo-oo-oo!’ has ancient roots.”
After growing more and more distressed about the dangers of religion, Kriegman finally had an epiphany: “What if someone developed a religion that made sense, and that people could test and see for themselves?” He started calling his idea an open-source religion after his son, an early adopter of Linux, described the parallels to Kriegman. (Kriegman claims he was the first person to found an open-source religion. Others credit Webster.)
Though jazzed about the prospects of founding a new religion to combat old religions, Kriegman hesitated: “I was embarrassed. I’m going to start a new religion? Every once in a while a psychologist goes off the deep end, and I was afraid my colleagues might think that was me.” But he soon founded a church called “Ozacua,” a portmanteau made up of the names of his three sons. It was also a character (a giant) in a bedtime fairy tale he used to tell them. Its moral was “United we stand, divided we fall.” He based the Ozacua religion on a cocktail of rational inquiry, empiricism, and science. His group eschews talk of visions, for instance, since however real the vision may be to the visionary, no one else in the group can experience it. To this rationalism—and here’s the religious angle—Kriegman mixed in a healthy dram of the pantheistic god of Spinzoa (above) and Einstein, a sort of life force that permeates the universe. It’s science that respects mystery and preserves awe.
Things were going well for Kriegman’s religion early on, until he almost ran aground on an uncomfortable disagreement: People liked the religion but hated the name. A lot. For an open-source religion, this was a sure test of its viability. In a religion more imbued with priestly authority, the flock can be overruled if the high priest dislikes the change. Kriegman wasn’t a priest in his religion, but he had a natural leadership role as its founder—not to mention a personal attachment to the name—and the soft, focus-group-like rebellion of his adherents concerned him. “I was not upset about losing the name,” he says, as much as “upset that people assumed [the religion] would become too associated with me, that it was a sort of cult underneath.”
In the end, a few dozen fellow believers had long debates about the name before they finally settled on Yoism, which is derived from Yo, the name they gave the vague spirit-force that permeates their universe. At first “yo” was a meaningless syllable, but group members have since come across many pleasing associations: “yo” means “I” in Spanish and “friend” in Chinese (hence Yo-Yo Ma), and is reminiscent of “you” in English. A few African cultures use the word in their creation myths as well, Kriegman says. In fact the name grew to have so many associations that Kriegman joked that perhaps god wanted it that way: “It’s like a miracle!”
He also adds, more seriously, “The mind finds lots of coincidences and puts them together, but [the name] does come to mean lots of things.” And those layers of meaning are something the few thousand followers of Yoism worldwide can share.
The question about the future of open-source religion is the same question that haunts any new religious movement—will it last? Most new religions don’t, and many versions of open-source religion are working at a disadvantage. For all the prosaic reasons people follow one faith or another—it’s what they grew up with, it’s socially advantageous, etc.—many people stick with a faith because they believe in its principles and doctrines.
But the aversion of open-source religions to doctrine and dogmas makes it seems likely they will have trouble attracting followers who need that core, that bedrock. For if every idea is at least open to revision, even if it doesn’t change in practice, religion can lose its authority, and doubts can creep in. Would Christianity really be Christianity if people could vote that Christ was not divine? Would Hinduism remain Hinduism if people could throw out reincarnation? (Even in the radically democratic world of open-source computing, Linux founder Torvalds and a few trusted advisors retain exclusive control over the Linux “kernel,” its most important underlying code.) If the beliefs are so arbitrary that majority votes can change them, why believe at all?
Indeed, there’s a certain lackadaisicalness about some open-source religions. Kriegman has been meaning to develop an initiation rite for Yoism for years but hasn’t quite gotten around to it, and he admits that other projects have fallen by the wayside. This includes his sometime battle to restore the Wikipedia page about his group, a page someone deleted as too marginal a topic. Wikipedia is an important tool for a religion founded on the principles of the free and open Internet, and Kriegman fought the deletion with Wikipedia administrators. But after losing his appeal, he hasn’t done much lately. He seems to lack the fanaticism that, for better or worse, does mark successful new religions. It’s hard to imagine John Calvin or Mohammed not fighting back.
With open-source Judaism, its founder, Rushkoff has more or less dropped out of the movement, though he still believes in it and promotes it when he can. As to the reason, he said, “No one really wanted to fund it, and at least at the time, most Jews weren’t really interested.” Even more importantly, “I wasn’t really committed to it to the point where I would contend with all the crap that comes with pushing an idea before its time.”
However much they adhere to the ideal of open source, most open-source religions do in practice maintain at least a few core and inviolable beliefs. If nothing else, their commitment to openness and the possibility of constant revision is itself a dogma. What’s more, there are other reasons people stick with a religion beyond fanatic commitment to it. Those reasons include community ties and a stable tradition, and here at least there’s evidence that open-source religions might have an advantage over traditional religions.
Rushkoff explains that religions with priests and elite castes are often committed to maintaining a status quo. But on the other hand, if change is necessary, the small number of people in charge make it easier to change the religion all at once, via fiat. “But I think in open-source, change is actually slower and more steady,” he says.
Plus, he adds, even if open-source religions weaken ties with the past by changing rituals or reinterpreting texts, open-source work can also help each generation of believers cohere among themselves
“It’s every generation’s obligation to reinterpret and reboot the religion,” Rushkoff says. “It’s much harder to accept and understand, but it’s actually a form of continuity, too.”
And now onto news!

From the New York Times, “Holy month ends, and violence rises again in Iraq.”

Eighteen people were killed and at least 55 others were wounded in bombings across Iraq on Monday as the country’s level of violence picked up again after a relative lull during the holy month of Ramadan.
Monday’s attacks occurred in Shiite and Sunni areas of the country and took aim not only at the Iraqi Army and the police but also at civilians.

Also from the NY Times, “When Religion is involved, a game is just that.”

This is a most wonderful gesture, having the Yankees and the Red Sox play at 1 p.m. on Sunday. It could even be the start of something better.
Instead of putting the game at 8 p.m. — prime time, as the networks call it — ESPN and Major League Baseball are accommodating thousands of fans who at sundown will be observing Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.
Not only that, but the N.F.L. has allowed both New York teams to play at 1 on Sunday — Jets at home, Giants on the road — just to get the tackling and selling and screaming over before sundown.

Next, from The Guardian, “JK Rowling lost out on US medal over Harry Potter witchcraft.”

A memoir by George W Bush's former speechwriter claims that Bush administration officials objected to giving JK Rowling a presidential medal of freedom on the grounds that her Harry Potter books "encouraged witchcraft".
According to the liberal American blog Think Progress, Matt Latimer's Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor reveals how politicised the medal, which is America's highest civilian honour, became during the Bush administration.
Latimer, whose memoir was published last week by Crown in the US, says that the "narrow thinking" of "people in the White House" led them "to actually object to giving the author JK Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft".
The medal is given to "individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours". During the Bush administration, it was awarded to individuals including Tony Blair, Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali, Alan Greenspan, Nelson Mandela, Doris Day and Charlton Heston.
The first 16 recipients of Barack Obama's presidential medal, handed out in August, included Stephen Hawking and Senator Ted Kennedy – who, according to Latimer's book, failed to receive the medal during the Bush administration because he was "a liberal".