Last July Friday 2008

Workout notes Nothing yet; a swim, weights, and maybe three miles of running. My outer hip muscles on both sides are sore; I wonder if this is from those leg machines, particularly the hip adductor machine.

Perhaps I need to do those regularly?

Various articles

Yes, this is from the ultra-right wing Fox News, but this article sums up what I am feeling just a bit uneasy about:

Obama Casts Self as World Citizen, But Will It Play in America?

Barack Obama’s speech Thursday in Germany may have grabbed the attention of the crowd of 200,000 with its outline of his world view, but his introduction was enough to catch attention back home.

“I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before, although tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world,” Obama said from his perch next to the Victory Column in Berlin, from which he could see throngs of spectators.

To several observers at home, that opening was the speech’s most noteworthy flourish.

“The opening line where he said he wasn’t speaking as a candidate but as a citizen of the world … it might have seemed appropriate for that audience, but you can’t remove the candidacy factor from it,” said Linda Hobgood, director of the Speech Center in the Department of Rhetoric and Communication Studies at the University of Richmond. “So it might have been more accurate to say, ‘While I am a candidate, I am also a citizen of the world.’”

She added that, as he has done in the past, Obama accentuated his international roots to demonstrate his foreign policy credentials.

“I was curious about what I could hear in terms of the crowd response,” Hobgood said. “There was a huge response in terms of his lineage to Kenya. I am sure again he was trying to emphasize that he was a citizen of the world.”

The question of national or global citizenship is one that Obama’s Republican rival, John McCain, seeks to exploit. In a recent ad on troop funding, the announcer states that the McCain will always put “country first.”

As for Obama’s speech in Berlin, the McCain campaign responded by noting Obama’s “eloquent praise for this country” but said the contrast couldn’t be more evident. […]

The crowd that greeted Obama in Berlin was larger than the crowds at home on the campaign trail so far, however, Hobgood questioned whether images of a giant turnout of Germans will move American voters to support him.

“To get that crowd size and those backdrops … it does give you pause. Who is he appealing to who is not going to vote for him already? Which voters will come over to him by virtue of this moment, by virtue of this speech situation? To tell you the truth, I can’t come up with too many,” she said.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a McCain ally who said he has traveled with the candidate to Germany maybe 25 times, suggested that Europeans paying attention to Obama is a double-edged sword.

“Americans haven’t really cared for the attitude of our European friends, who are very seldom with it when it comes to the heavy lifting around the world,” Kyl said.

I am worried that many people will fall for this false dichotomy: “being a part of the community of nations is bad for America”. Frankly, I think it will be good for America.

I think that this article reflects the attitude of the typical Fox News watcher though.

The world is getting smaller though; for example other countries are rapidly catching up in technical areas:

Is the sun beginning to set on America’s scientific dominance? Much like the scientific superpowers of France, Germany and Britain in centuries’ past, the United States has a diminishing lead over other nations in financial investment and scholarly research output in science and engineering, say a group of historians and sociologists led by University of Wisconsin-Madison emeritus history professor J. Rogers Hollingsworth.

Massive investments in recent decades by the European Union, China, Japan, Russia and India have leveled the international playing field in the sciences, according to the essay published in the July 24 issue of the journal Nature. The trend will likely put an end to the age of the “unrivaled scientific behemoth,” a status the U.S. has enjoyed since the end of World War II.

“What we are seeing is a diffusion of good science centers all over the world, a trend which ultimately may be good for science,” says Hollingsworth. “But it also means that the U.S. relative to the rest of the world no longer dominates.”

The authors cite China as the most pronounced example. In 1995, China ranked 15th among nations in the production of science and engineering papers, according to the research analysis firm Thomson Reuters ISI. By 2007, the country ranked second, an increase driven in large part by the country’s economic growth.

China also made dramatic gains in scientific talent. From 1985 to 2005, the number of natural sciences and engineering doctorates in China increased seven-fold and elevated the country to third in the world.

Similar major strides in the number of doctorates and the volume of scientific publishing have taken place in India, Japan, Russia and Europe. Hollingsworth argues that this shift closely parallels the emergence of a global economy and the newfound ability of many nations to compete.

“The decline of the U.S. economy relative to the rest of the world is facilitating the strengthening of science elsewhere,” the authors argue.

Hollingsworth and his co-authors – UW-Madison senior scientist Ellen Jane Hollingsworth and Karl H. Muller, director of the Vienna Institute for Social Science Documentation and Methodology – assert that U.S. science is still strong and performs at a high level. For example, U.S. researchers still account for more than half of the top 1 percent of most-cited papers in the world.

But the global proliferation of science will present new challenges to the United States. Hollingsworth says that the biggest threat to U.S. science competitiveness may be the massive size of major research universities, which produce a high volume of published work but not a corresponding increase in “major breakthroughs.” For example, Hollingsworth says that almost 50 percent of papers published by U.S. scientists are not cited by other scientists, which raises the question of whether the high volume of publishing “is really enhancing our stock of knowledge.”

(yes, some of my papers have been cited by others, but not enough recent ones. I had better get to work!) 🙂

Speaking of science:

Matter vs. anti-matter. This remains a puzzle for cosmologists to solve. Why is our universe asymmetric with respect to baryons? Baryons are particles like protons and neutrons; e. g. why are there lots of protons but almost no anti-protons (same mass, but with negative charge)?

Informed speculation: what would the universe have been like had some of the cosmological constants been a tad different? Or equivalently, what would our parallel universes look like if the multiverse model is true?

Somewhat snarky comment: an outspoken atheist speaks out:

I wasn’t searching for anything. I wasn’t dabbling or questioning. I wasn’t having any kind of spiritual breakdown. I just opened my eyes one day, looked around and realised that I had once been standing in a house and one by one the walls had collapsed and there was no longer a house there. I was standing out in the open. It was very liberating.

Funny though. For a while I would go to pray and then remind myself that I didn’t believe. These days I send out wishes. I know, just as crazy.

I question some of my progressive, believing mates about if they believe in Noah’s ark, the Immaculate Conception, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection, even heaven, and they squirm a little and try to change the subject. They get vague, defensive and then start muttering something about faith and mystery and a power of love that unites us all.

Sure, it would be easy to torture them, but they’re adults and it’s their life. I just can’t see why it’s so difficult to have a rigorous discussion about it. I feel no need to convert them. I just want them to know that if you are brave enough to place your hand through the invisible electric fence there’s a bigger world beyond.

It’s been a revelation to me a year since my “epiphany”. I feel as if I’m walking through life with the blinkers off. Suddenly all the religious mumbo-jumbo jumps out as so bonkers. Wearing certain things, eating certain things, mumbling certain things at certain times so some imaginary friend will let you into a club in the sky when you die. I want to do my living now, thanks. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of never having lived.

There is a school of thought that suggests atheists should not call themselves atheists but just say we apply rational thought to everything and religion is no exception.

As Sam Harris, author of The End Of Faith, puts it, “I think that ‘atheist’ is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology.

“We simply do not call people ‘non-astrologers’. All we need are words like ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘common sense’ and ‘bullshit’ to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.”

I don’t care what people believe in, but I do care that religion impacts on political discourse, public policy and that it stunts the ability of people to think for themselves and question. And that it kills people and causes suffering. But most of all I care that the invisible electric fences that are wired in the minds of children brainwashed by religion are difficult to remove. And impossible if you don’t even know they’re there.

A quote attributed to Stephen F. Robert sums it up for me: “We are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Peace be with you.

This kind of sums up how I feel.

If you wonder why this is such a big topic with me, I’ll offer up a few reasons

1. At work, I have lots of atheist friends. But many of these types have never been interested in religion. I continue to be; I have for all of my life. I just find it interesting: how it spread, how beliefs evolved, how the various holy books were written, why this writing was included and why this other one was not, etc. Frankly, studying this from an atheistic point of view makes it even more interesting because answers like “book X was included but book Y wasn’t because our deity told the church fathers to do it this way” become glaring cop-outs.

2. I do come into contact with communities which have lots of “believers” (think: AA. No, I am not an AA member but that isn’t too far off of the mark…) I admit that there are times when I think that their way of seeing the world is just plain nuts.

3. Political season: all politicians pander to so-called people of faith.

4. I am interested in science education. Enough said.

5. I’d like to let the other atheists/agnostics out there know that they aren’t alone. Of course I am probably one of the few atheist/agnostic types who enjoys reading books called Introduction to the Bible (Rogerson), Biblical Literacy (Telushkin), The Complete Gospels, (Jesus Seminar), Gospel Fictions (Helms) and The Bible as it Was (Kugel).


July 25, 2008 - Posted by | books, injury, mccain, obama, politics, politics/social, religion, science, training


  1. I’m all for world citizenship. I think he brought up the EU in his speech as a great example. Is it not interesting that the UK is still holding out from the EU, keeping it’s own currency? At one time, they were the imperialists on this planet. At one time, the did what the US is now doing. Professing superiority over all other nations and occupying some of them.

    I have to take a better look at this, but it seems like, for the most part, Greece is the cradle of modern civilization, right? Where our current basic consciousness and society started. Western thinking, as it were. But they play a rather small role on the global scene today, no?

    I have always thought of Europe as further evolved than the US. In general. Their society is older, much older, than that of the US, although technically we’re just an extension of them. Dan Savage (generally known for sex column Savage Love) was on the radio a ways back, when I lived in Seattle. And he was expounding on the Puritanical influence that permeates US culture, even today. He had a really good point. That’s where US culture tends to diverge from European culture, in my mind.

    So IMHO socially, and particularly governmentally, I have always regarded Europe and its nations as superior, at a more advanced stage of evolution, in terms of societal organization. And I frequently disparaged the US’s overwhelmingly self centered view of society, both as a nation and as individuals. I’ve often advocated emulating one European nation or another – ie. health care, socialism of a sort, transportation (god knows I wish we had their rail systems). Is the EU not more advanced – when you look at it in terms of long term evolution? THeir society, as an advanced Western type society, with organized government and educational and social systems, has been growing itself for a good couple of millenia longer than the US, no?

    I think this might be the one thing I learned from my Catholic upbringing. Compassion and empathy, and social responsibility that is greater than myself. For the good of all peoples.

    So Obama’s speech makes me respect and follow him just that much more, in general. We are so interconnected in what we do anymore. Stock brokers in the US can now operated 24/7 and watch the Nikkei index and all those other indices. SO many companies are global – they have footprints all over. So many peoples and cultures are global. Especially the US – hello, Chinatown, Little Italy, heck, even Peoria has little cultural enclaves where immigrants from this or that country cluster themselves.

    Technology has brought us together, and I wonder, better than the US not desire to be superior. Not desire some form of imperialism. I certainly don’t want it, for one anyway. Celebrating global diversity is certainly fun. And as for global warming, we really, really have to work all together.

    Kyl’s statement about the US doing the heavy lifting around the world really pisses me off. Has he forgotten WWII so quickly? or WWI? the US didn’t come into those until late, for sure. Vietnam, we really shouldn’t ever have been there. Ditto the GUlf War and Iraq. So our “heavy lifting” is just that much more imperialistic bullshit, IMHO. THe rest of the civilized world has evolved beyond such imperialism, yes? Save Bush, McCain and Kyl, and Fox News, I suppose.

    And this leads a bit into the atheism track. Being a UU also, the “interconnected web of life” really sums it all up for me. Personally, discovering that in UU was “my epiphany.” You can put some kind of higher power, being or consciousness into that, or not. But it would seem that as we evolve further, technologically and globally, that there really is some sort of “interconnected web of life” maybe just with our shared oceans at this point. So world citizenship, atheism, and interconnectedness don’t seem too far apart in principle, maybe?

    I wish blog software would make these comment boxes larger, or give an enlargement option, so I could see more than just a paragraph of what I’d just written. I hope this all makes sense/follows well.

    Comment by cgiselle12 | July 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. Of course what you say makes sense; I get some reasonable comments here, an occasional deluded individual (yes, from both ends of the political spectrum) and about a year ago, a neo-nazi or two.

    The thing is that I wonder what percentage of the “undecided” voter sees things the way that you see them?

    Face it: we aren’t going to get the folks who agree with Phil Gramm economics or those who agree with Dick Cheney foreign policy, and we are going to get slaughtered among the “Confederate Battle flag on their pickup” crowd.

    But what about the others?

    My guess is that this election will be more about “do we join the world community” or do we stubbornly stay apart from it, and I don’t have a good enough feel to know how it will fall out.

    I’ve heard isolated stories that some of the old school D’s are thinking about voting R for the first time in their lives (boo) and about some “bubbas” who are really considering Obama (yay!!!)

    I suppose that some of this happens in every election.

    Comment by blueollie | July 25, 2008 | Reply

  3. I haven’t heard from any Dems who plan on voting for McCain. I have heard from old school republicans who are voting for Obama, though.

    I imagine the problem is that too many people are disconnected from politics altogether. People who are more concerned about who’s going to win American Idol or when the pictures of Brad and Angelina’s new twins will appear in People magazine, and don’t bother with politics because it’s all to confusing and bitter and stupid and politicians never do anything for them anyway, so why bother.

    Could this be a result of the complacency of having decent governance for several decades (prior to W anyway)? Or the decline of the AMerican educational system and the republicans moving us away from New Deal esque values?

    Comment by cgiselle12 | July 25, 2008 | Reply

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