August, 2011 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Facilitators: Maxine Caserta - 525-8427, 348-4113 & Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
First Sunday - Radisson Hotel – 9:00 AM Social – 10:00 Brunch
George Erickson, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Who are Your Heroes?
After my presentation on the above subject, I was asked by several people to list the five "heroes" I'd selected in the newsletter, so here they are: Gordano Bruno, the brilliant defender of Copernicus who lost his life to the Inquisition; Thomas Paine sparkplug of the American Revolution and the author of Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, which EVERY American should read; Michael Faraday, whose search for knowledge brought us electricity and the generators and motors that have transformed our lives; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the tireless worker who dedicated her life to women's rights, including the right to vote – and the skinny giant named Mohandas Gandhi, who for 50 years fought to improve the lives of both Hindus and Muslims in South Africa and India, and ended up being assassinated at the end of his long struggle to free India from British control. George Erickson
Storms of My Grandchildren
by James Hansen – a book review by George Erickson
In Storms of My Grandchildren (which should have been titled Storms FOR My Grandchildren), Dr. James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard institute for space studies and our nation's leading scientist on climate issues, delivers the truth about global climate warming. In short, we are hurtling even more rapidly than previously acknowledged toward a tipping point - a point no return.
According to Hansen, the biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money and politics and the undue influence of special interests that are funded by coal and oil industries. Because these industries profit from the status quo, they want the public to ignore the FACT that since the industrial revolution began, we have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million (the record high for the last 0.5 million years) to 390 PPM. And 390 PPM is perilously close to the point at which efforts to reverse our greenhouse effect will be futile. And if that happens, our earth will become another Venus, where nothing lives, and daytime in temperatures soar to 850 degrees.
The arctic, says Hansen, is the issue – for several reasons. As the glaciers and the ice pack melt, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere increases, and water vapor is also a greenhouse gas. Now add the methane being released from the arctic's thawing permafrost and from the methane hydrates locked in the ocean floor, and then include the fact that methane molecules are 30 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. So what to do?
One solution, according to Hansen, involves burning methane instead of coal and oil, because burning methane is cleaner, and even though the end result is carbon dioxide, we would be destroying much of the potent methane.
As Hansen began to express his concern about the hazards of climate change, he soon ran into opposition that originated in the Bush White House, opposition that actually censored his talks and required prior approval from the Office of Public Affairs. And when he was invited to appear on NPR, the offer was withdrawn after a call from government sources influenced by the coal and oil industries.
Hansen pressed on, relying on the integrity of NASA's mission statement ("to understand and protect our own planet") to justify his concerns, but was ordered to desist. And when he checked the NASA website, he discovered that the phrase had been removed. And then came a 20% cut in the budget for earth science research – his field.
"Coal," argues Hansen, "is exceedingly dirty stuff," and burning it releases mercury, arsenic and sulfates, which are major sources of global air and water pollution. As a solution, some suggest "carbon capture and sequestration," which is an expensive process that consumes large amounts of energy. In addition, the captured carbon dioxide must be pumped into appropriate geological strata that can be hundreds of miles away.
Others favor cap-and-trade, the plan in which the amount of fossil fuel for sale is "capped." As Hansen explains it, "a nominal cap is defined by selling a limited number of certificates that allow a business or speculator to buy the fuel. So the fuel costs more because you must buy the certificate…. You can trade it or sell it to somebody else. There will be markets for the certificates on Wall Street. And markets for derivatives. [And opportunities for abuse.] The biggest player is expected to be Goldman Sachs." Guess who will make the profits.
Hansen, a fervent critic of Congress and lobbyists, favors a simpler plan called "fee-and-dividend" that taxes the fuel at its source and returns the proceeds to the public on a per capita basis or an income tax credit, which encourages conservation. Simple! And with little chance for abuse.
Better yet, says Hansen, we must rely more on wind and solar energy sources and switch from conventional nuclear reactors to fourth generation reactors that are far more efficient and produce much less radioactive waste. Unfortunately, 3 Mile Island wrote an end to the switch to these fast breeder reactors, and at present, no one is even considering them – or even liquid thorium reactors that consume more plentiful thorium and have even more advantages than the fast breeders.
It's very unfortunate that the effects of global warming appear first at the poles. Why? Because no one cares about the distant, expansive shields of ice that are shrinking every year. Were the effects of global warming felt first in the temperate zones, the zones where we live, we'd have been forced to get serious two decades ago.
The storms that Hansen predicts for his grandchildren are already here, with more just around the bend. Think Katrina and 2011's record flooding and our plague of tornadoes. In the meantime, Las Vegas continues to build as water levels in Lake Meade fall to record lows, and residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles will face water rationing in the not too distant future.
Hansen paints no pretty pictures, but if you care about your grandchildren and your planet more than you care about power and profit, read up on global warming. Do the work. Get informed - and involved. Storms of my Grandchildren is a good place to start.
From the ONION
In a diagnosis that helps explain the confusing and contradictory aspects of the cosmos that have baffled philosophers, theologians, and other students of the human condition for millennia,
God, creator of the universe and longtime deity to billions of followers, was found Monday to suffer from bipolar disorder.
Rev. Dr. J. Henry Jurgens, a practicing psychiatrist and doctor of divinity at Yale University Divinity School, announced the historic diagnosis at a press conference.
"I always knew there had to be some explanation," Jurgens said. "And, after several years of patient research and long sessions with God Almighty through the intercessionary medium of prayer, I was able to pinpoint the specific nature of His problem."
Bipolar, or manic-depressive, disorder is a condition that afflicts millions. Characterized by cycles of elation followed by bouts of profound depression and despair, the disorder can wreak havoc on both the sufferer and his or her loved ones, particularly if it goes undetected and untreated for an extended period. Though the condition is estimated to affect, in one form or another, 5 percent of the world's population, Monday marks the first time it has been diagnosed in a major deity.
Evidence of God's manic-depression can be found throughout the Universe, from the white-hot explosiveness of quasars to the cold, lifeless vacuum of space. However, theologians note, humanity's exposure to God's affliction comes primarily through His confusing propensity to alternately reward and punish His creations with little rhyme or reason.
"Last week, I lost my dear husband Walter to the flood," said housewife and devout churchgoer Elaine Froman of Davenport, IA. "I asked myself, 'Why? Why would God do something like this, especially when He had just helped Walter overcome a long battle with colon cancer, and we were so happy that we finally had a chance to start our lives anew?'"
New York attorney Ruth Kanner also gained firsthand knowledge of God's wild mood swings.
"Last Saturday, on a gorgeous spring afternoon, I was jogging in Central Park with my daughter. We were marveling at the beauty and majesty of nature, and I remember thinking what a wonderful world we live in. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the gunfire," said Kanner, speaking from her hospital bed at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. "All they took was a measly $17, and for that, the doctors say my daughter will never walk again. If only Our Holy Father didn't have those mental problems, my precious Katie might not be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life."
Jurgens stressed that God's earthly subjects need to understand that, because of His bipolar condition, He is not in control of His actions and does not realize how they affect others.
"What He needs from us is understanding and patience," Jurgens said. "To paraphrase the words of the Lord God Himself, 'Humans, forgive Him, for He knows not what He does.'"
While such drugs as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft have proven effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder among humans, there is no modern earthly medicine that can be prescribed for a deity as vast and complex as God. Jurgens is in the process of forming a support group, "Living With A Bipolar Creator-Deity," for all of humanity to "get together and discuss their feelings about living in a universe run by an Omnipresent Loved One not fully in control of his emotions."
Jurgens said he believes God's essential condition is seasonal, as evidenced by the bursts of energy and elation associated with springtime and summer, followed by the decay and bleak despair of fall and winter. Sometimes, however, the condition cycles even faster.
"The average person with bipolar disorder may go through as many as 10 or 12 cycles of mania and subsequent depression in a lifetime. In severe cases, a sufferer may experience four or more per year, which is known as 'rapid cycling,'" Jurgens said. "We believe God suffers from the even rarer 'ultra-rapid cycling,' which would account for the many documented cases in which He alternates between benevolence and rage toward humanity within a matter of seconds. For example, last week, He brought desperately needed, life-giving rain to southern Mali while
simultaneously leveling Turkey with a devastating earthquake."
Further evidence of God's manic-depression can be found in the Bible, in which the erotomania of the Song of Songs sharply contrasts with the sadness and existential despair of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Book of Job, Jurgens noted, marks the best example of His condition. The book begins with the bleak lamentations of Job and ends with a full-blown manic episode by God, complete with such classic bipolar symptoms as the illusion of omnipotence and delusions of grandeur.
"One of the major 'heresies' of Christian history is the Gnostic belief that the Creator, or 'demiurge,' of this troubled world is a blind, idiot god who is insane," Jurgens said. "This idea surfaces in many religious traditions around the globe. As it turns out, they were only half right: God has His problems like anyone else, but He is essentially trying His best. He just has a condition that makes His emotions fly out of control at times."
"So it's up to us to make the best of God's emotional problems," Jurgens continued. "Thus, mankind is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward."
Theology is organized, formalized, ritualized ignorance gleaned from mummified thinking. Theology is mystical, mythological, allegorical narratives derived from purely subjective speculation and unsupported conjecture. Theologians present no evidence in support of their assertions, they have no data, and none of their claims can be verified or confirmed. Theological claims have never been supported by external corroboration. Theological assertions cannot be either proven, or disproven. Consequently, theology measured against the highest levels of scholarship and intellectual rigor is not about anything. We know absolutely nothing about anything regarded as "supernatural." Theology explains nothing and contributes nothing to our knowledge base. Considering that acquiring a graduate degree in anything else besides theology would require a demonstrable level of knowledge about something, it boggles the mind to think that a graduate degree in theology is not about anything.
[OK, Rod. Don't be so timid. Tell us what you really think.]
Mark Twain, "Bible Teaching and Religious Practice"
"The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes.... The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession - and take the credit of the correction.
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
"Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry....There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain!"