Beta Culture: Dealing With Conservatives

Beta-Culture-JPGHad a little epiphany today about the sense of humor, and why ultra-conservatives don’t seem to have much of it.

Humor requires a certain flexibility of mind, a capacity to quickly change mental directions. The lead-in to a joke sets up a certain expectation, then the punchline forces a radical departure from that expectation. The unexpectedness makes us laugh.

A Hasidic Jew walks into a New York City bar with a frog on his shoulder. The bartender says “Where the heck did you get THAT?” The frog says “New Jersey! They’re all over the place down there!”

But if you’re an ultra-conservative, you don’t like unexpectedness. It’s like being an extreme introvert and getting thrust into a surprise birthday party. Ultra-conservatives don’t have that mental flexibility — it’s why they’re ultra-conservatives. It’s not just that they don’t want to learn anything new, don’t want to change, don’t want to try new foods or experiences or ideas, and don’t want things around them to change, it’s that they can’t. They can’t handle it. Can’t deal with difference and newness.

I’ve toyed with the idea of something I call the “adaptive limit” in humans. People who grow up in an environment that encourages adaptability, continued learning and growth and experimentation, they have a high adaptive limit. Those who grow up in conditions of fear or stress have a low adaptive limit. Whatever one’s adaptive limit, anyone who has their limit exceeded by too much stress, trauma or pressure, they shut down and react mechanically rather than creatively or openly. They play out trusted mental patterns or reactions from the past, because they literally can’t come up with anything new.

We beat on Southerners and religious people for being “stupid” and “hateful,” but I sometimes think a better approach would be one of … kindness and understanding. Not acceptance — bad ideas and behavior don’t stop being bad. But an understanding that takes into account their limits, limits unsuspected even by themselves. They’re not bad, necessarily — they’re wounded. They have something like PTSD just from everyday life, and need a more compassionate approach to helping them open back up and begin to grow again.

And maybe a lot of them never will. Maybe — from damage too great to heal or the inflexibility of age — they’re just not up to it.

When you’re facing one of those people — with your own automatic belief that you’re dealing with a responsible adult — it’s tough to step back from their negative reaction and consider that you’re dealing with someone who is probably doing the best they can, and needs compassion rather than reactive anger.

With my impatient nature, I’m probably one of the worst people to tell others to be more compassionate and understanding.  But  strategically, I can see great value in the larger atheist community working out approaches to dealing with certain populations that will take into account their adaptive limits, and reactions they probably have little control over.



And now I’m thinking of certain inflexible and even somewhat irrational people on the liberal end of the spectrum, and it occurs to me there can be liberal-trending people who also suffer from exceeded adaptive limits.

One Billion Atheists: Two Additional Ideas

Billion Atheists copyAs the name of the hoped-for movement states, my interest in the free-thought spectrum is this one specific thing: Atheism. Everything else flows from that, in my view, and a coordinated effort to empower and expand atheism will throw off benefits to every one of the sub-genres of the larger field of free-thought.

Regarding which, here are a couple of ideas I’d toss into the mix for One Billion Atheists by 2025:

Atheist Leadership Academy

Years back when I was working on a magazine in It-Shall-Remain-Nameless Town, there was this thing I was invited to apply to, the Nameless Town Leadership Academy.

You had to be sponsored, and my boss sponsored me. You have to fill out a lengthy application, and I filled out the lengthy application. You had to wait while a large Most Secret Membership Board studied your application, read your applicant essay, evaluated your educational and financial credentials — hell, for all I know checked your socks and underwear drawer for its highly-indicative April-fresh scent — and then weighed in on whether or not you were proper Nameless Town material. —I wasn’t.

It looked like nothing so much as a school for wannabe-rich Republicans. They had annual classes of 25 who paid dearly for the privilege of being lectured, led, and groomed in the philosophy of the radically pro-business founders and cheerleaders of the thing, all under the guise of “community service.” It seemed like not a week passed that the local newspaper didn’t have a picture of the smiling students posing with local power-suited bankers and real estate agents, developers and elected officials, at the site of the next development, the next big deal, the next Great Big Social Concern.

NOTHING happened in the town without their approval and involvement. If you weren’t aligned with them, you were a protester, a nutcase, a nobody, relegated to the backwaters of Nameless Town flow.

Say what you will, they got things done. Now and again, some of it was even objectively good.

There are lots of other such organizations across the U.S. and, I assume, the rest of the world — both private groups and corporate entities that serve as trainers of such groups.

Which is good reason for the Atheist movement to try it — a coordinated effort aimed at turning out educated, aware, involved and motivated atheist leaders in every city, state, country and corner of the world. Leading, coaching, training, conferring, problem solving, assisting in creating stronger, more focused and more strategic activism worldwide.

Something else should happen first, though. A …

Strategic Planning Conference

The goal of a Strategic Planning Conference would be to discuss and agree on strategy, both worldwide and regionally — Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and especially the Muslim world — for the next 10 to 20 years.

So far, atheist leaders, what there are of them, are a pretty scattered bunch. There are activists within the free-thought movement who champion science and reason, transgender rights, racial equality, feminism, gender equality, activism in the Muslim world, a great deal more — either as separate issues or en masse. There are bloggers and blog commenters, book writers, professional scientists, university professors, philosophers, speakers, artists, comedians, musicians, videographers, lawyers and clients, swag merchants, local organizations, and a great deal more (see the upcoming post on Reason Riders motorcycle club!) — not to mention the huge audience of readers, convention attendees, book buyers and quiet, private rebels.

The effect is definite, but far slower and less directed than it might be. I worry that the entire thing is fragile in certain critical ways, that a single catastrophic event could set the clock back on free-thought consolidation by years, decades, or even longer. (*)

Certainly all of these people talk to each other at conferences and events, in scattershot emails and calls, and certainly local groups tend to work together on fundraising and events. But as far as coordinated large-scale action, I’m not seeing it.

I’ll freely admit I’m out of the loop on major atheist events of the past couple of years. After my Dad died, my reading of many of the major atheist blogs and organizational communiques dropped off.

But again, I don’t see the world-spanning, cross-border organizational action I’d like to see. The Richard Dawkins Foundation comes closest to what I have in mind, but I don’t know that even they have organized the sort of planning conferences I imagine, seeking to take some of the disparate voices of the movement and aim them at a large-scale uber-goal such as One Billion Atheists by 2025.

I would dearly love to see it. It would be even better to be a part of it.



( * I also worry at the trend which consolidates major voices of the movement into blog networks aimed at income rather than broader matters. I’ve seen good blogs descend into the rapid-fire posting of outrage click-bait rather than the calmer ideation and analysis that informs and educates readers to the benefit of the larger movement. )

Dawkins in Boston, Oh Yeah

dawkins_tour_landing-page-6Owing to … well, owing, I don’t often get to attend the big atheist events. But this time there’s one near me, so I’m going to see and hear Richard Dawkins in Boston this Thursday, June 11.

I’m carpooling with some of the cool people of the Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics Meet-Up group.

I’m pretty excited about it. Always wanted to meet the guy, and I hope that will be possible here.

Tickets are $35. I’ll be the guy in the cowboy hat.


I’ll also be posting a followup with some pictures, a day or so later.

Catholic Church Flexing Muscle in U.S. Hospitals

According to Wikipedia:

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 per cent of them located in developing countries. In 2010, the Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of the world’s health care facilities. The Church’s involvement in health care has ancient origins.

What a sweet bunch of guys, huh? Actually yes, I’d say.

But check this out:

US Bishops Working To Ban Hospitals From Providing Women With Common Form Of Birth Control

Last month, seemingly without notice or reason, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops changed its policy and banned Genesys Health System, a Catholic medical center in Michigan, from performing tubal ligations, the second most common form of birth control for women in their 30s and 40s in America. Upon a woman’s request, immediately after she had given birth, doctors would “tie her tubes” to prevent future pregnancies. 700,000 are performed annually across the country.

According to ProPublica, quoted in the article, “Ten of the 25 largest health systems in the nation — and four of the five largest nonprofit networks —are now Catholic-sponsored.” This is important, as the article says, because Catholic Bishops control policy in Catholic hospitals in thousands of communities across the United States.

It matters what’s legal, and we’re all behind maximized access to reproductive care for all women. But what’s LEGAL and what’s AVAILABLE are unfortunately two different things. And may soon be even more so.

The Catholic Church of course believes it has the right to limit health care to women according to various tenets of its core doctrine. But isn’t this the same thing as a cab driver in Alabama refusing to pick up a black man, or a bakery owner refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding? The driver and baker have every right to their private views, but out in the public sector, they MAY NOT USE THOSE VIEWS as grounds for refusing to provide full and equal service to members of the public.

If these are public hospitals — and they are — this policy is intolerable.



Carrie Underwood Click-Bait. Meh.

ChickenWe had chickens when I was a kid — White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Bantams — and I loved feeding them. I’d go out with a bowl of cracked corn and call “Chick, chick, chick, chick-EE!” And they’d come running, looking up at me with their stupid prehistoric faces, brainlessly eager for something tasty. Never realizing that they were OUR food, that this was all a scam to get their eggs and meaty selves on our table in the near future.

I hate to think of people like that, but — all too often — we are.

So here’s the cracked corn:

Atheists Outraged By Carrie Underwood’s Latest Song

In the song, Underwood sings about baptism and “being washed in blood,” which refers to the blood of Christ. The whole message of the song is that we humans are lost without God.

Atheists are outraged that such a hit-maker as Underwood would dare to sing about Christianity, but Carrie doesn’t seem to care.

“Country music is different. You have that Bible Belt-ness about it,” she said. “I’m not the first person to sing about God, Jesus, faith or any of that, and I won’t be the last. And it won’t be the last for me, either. If you don’t like it, change the channel.”

And here are the lyrics:

“Something In The Water”

He said, “I’ve been where you’ve been before.
Down every hallway’s a slamming door.”
No way out, no one to come and save me
Wasting a life that the Good Lord gave me

Then somebody said what I’m saying to you
Opened my eyes and told me the truth.”
They said, “Just a little faith, it’ll all get better.”
So I followed that preacher man down to the river and now I’m changed
And now I’m stronger

There must’ve been something in the water
Oh, there must’ve been something in the water

Well, I heard what he said and I went on my way
Didn’t think about it for a couple of days
Then it hit me like a lightning late one night
I was all out of hope and all out of fight

Couldn’t fight back the tears so I fell on my knees
Saying, “God, if you’re there come and rescue me.”
Felt love pouring down from above
Got washed in the water, washed in the blood and now I’m changed

And now I’m stronger

There must be something in the water
Oh, there must be something in the water

And now I’m singing along to amazing grace
Can’t nobody wipe this smile off my face
Got joy in my heart, angels on my side
Thank God almighty, I saw the light
Gonna look ahead, no turning back
Live every day, give it all that I have
Trust in someone bigger than me
Ever since the day that I believed I am changed
And now I’m stronger

There must be something in the water
Oh, there must be something in the water
Oh, there must be something in the water
Oh, there must be something in the water
Oh, yeah

I am changed

I’m free

Now, who do you suppose this headline and this story and this song were for? Who are the chickens that will come running? Is it atheists?

Nope. It’s Christians. Those poor, besieged Christians.

This is a manipulative, parasitic song and article to fuck over people — real human beings, a lot like you and me — who identify as Christians … mostly because they don’t know any different.

Behind the song and article — and probably a lot of preacher-talk to follow — is a millennia-long religious INDUSTRY aimed at fucking over people. Aimed at lying to them. Aimed at brainwashing them. Aimed at sucking the life out of them. Aimed at creating misery that can be turned into profit.

That’s what this is all about. This is one of those things that you can never see until you get religion out of your head. Before, it all looks like sweetness and light, families home for the holidays and Hallmark moments of all sorts. After … you start to see it for what it really is: A sort of invisible monster that eats human minds, human lives.

The way this particular story is presented, that business about Christians being under siege, is a way of deflecting attention onto others for the REAL siege being carried out by the presenters. It’s a dirty little magic act where they pose as your friend — rather than cracked corn, they throw out a scary picture of The Common Enemy — so you never notice them consuming you and everybody you love.


I actually like Carrie Underwood a lot. I especially like the song and video for “Before He Cheats Again.” It’s beautiful musically. The video is fabulous. But I don’t kid myself about what it’s really about, a young woman vandalizing a man’s truck — to a felony-level thousands of dollars — merely because he’s out with another girl.

Right now he’s probably slow dancing with a bleached-blonde tramp,
and she’s probably getting frisky…
Right now, he’s probably buying her some fruity little drink
’cause she can’t shoot whiskey…
Right now, he’s probably up behind her with a pool stick,
showing her how to shoot a combo…

And he don’t know…

That I dug my key into the side
of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive,
Carved my name into his leather seats…
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
Slashed a hole in all 4 tires…
Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.



Several days after, I realize the REAL headline that should be attached to this story:

“Religious Advertisers and Marketers SHIT-SCARED Because Atheists No Longer Buying Into Their Crap.”

Reimagining the Conceptual Foundation of Atheism

The_ThinkerInevitably, in any discussion with those critical of atheism, you’ll hear “You can’t prove there’s no God, therefore atheism is not logically supportable.”

Here’s the counter: There’s this thought experiment we’ve been conducting for the past three centuries or so, the thought experiment of “What if everything works by completely natural laws and forces, with no capricious supernatural superbeings involved?”

It doesn’t matter whether or not the supernatural superbeings exist! We just decided to see what we could come up with if we assumed they didn’t. It was a trial run regarding a certain way of thinking.

That thought experiment, science, has paid off in practically everything you see around you. Not one object in my modern house, no part of our cellphones or computers or cars, nothing in modern medicine, depends on belief in gods for its existence, and in fact, could not have been created (and demonstrably was not created) by people operating solely on faith. It turns out that the thought experiment of science returned massive benefits, things never before seen, or possible, in the thousands of years before we tried it.

Atheism is this same type of thought experiment, a trial run of “IF WE ASSUME no gods exist … How would society look? How would government work? What would morality be like? How would we relate to each other? And … is it possible that by assuming this we might see the same massive benefits socially as we got scientifically?”

You don’t have to prove there’s no God to be an atheist. Atheism is a thought experiment, and every atheist — every person! — is perfectly justified in performing it. The goal of this thought experiment is not rock-solid proof of the non-existence of gods. In fact, that question is virtually irrelevant. The goal is to see what social and cultural benefits we can obtain from postulating that we live in a world devoid of mystical forces. A world where the things HUMANS do and think is the main deciding factor in eventual outcomes.

Just as it was with science, the result of this experiment might be off the charts of anything we’ve seen until now.

An Epiphany on Road Rage … Online

I had to do a silly damned “defensive driving course” at work. It was this SIX HOUR LONG online thingie, where you have to read a short screen of text, and then wait out a timer before you can click to the next short screen of text, and read that.

Argh. If you were ever a student and had a writing assignment that included a necessary word or page count, and you used up your facts or thoughts halfway through that assigned length and had to pad things out with extra words, you can imagine what this “course” was like. Padded as hell, and tedious because of it. But also, in this case, containing a SMALL amount of useful information. It’s a state-approved thing, and whoever was on the approving board thought that to get that useful stuff into the course-taker’s head it had to be the full SIX HOURS LONG, rather than, say, three, or even two.

There are four “modules” you have to work your way through, and there’s a “test” at the end of each module, a series of 5 to 8 questions that are so lame they’re obviously designed for an easy pass.

The way the course works, you take it to get penalty points (for a past ticket) off your license, and it reduces your insurance. As I haven’t had a ticket since roughly 1985, I had to take it so (I imagine) the drug rehab hospital I drive for could get a better rate on insurance. All the drivers were required to take it, or get suspended from driving.

It’s one of those “for the sake of appearances” things, mostly. The easy-pass test is a clear indicator that nobody really cares whether you can actually demonstrate knowledge of, for instance, the 8 different colors and 8 different shapes of road signs, or the significance of yellow stripes on the road as contrasted with white stripes, or what to do when you see a school bus stopping. They just have to know you’ve been exposed to the SIX FULL HOURS of knowledge.

But, as I say, a couple of things were useful. Useful to me, personally. One was the section on road rage.

I’d seen some of it just the day before. Driving north on Interstate 87 out of New York City — I was in the left lane of the 4-lane highway and going slightly faster than the traffic around me — when a pickup truck literally whooshed by me on the right and moved into the lane just 50 feet ahead of me. He was followed by a pursuer, a car that did the same maneuver, only faster, missing my front bumper by perhaps 18 inches as he moved into my lane. He whipped up behind and then to the left of the truck.

To give you the clear picture of what happened, remember that I was already in the left-most lane, right next to the dividing wall between the north- and south-bound lanes. This car rocketed into the narrow space between the truck and that wall, paused there briefly while the obviously furious driver shouted or gestured at the offending (?) pickup driver, and then seemed to lose it for a moment so that he bounced between the wall and the truck like a loose pinball, contacting both with sparks and crunches.

Truck and car both slowed, and all the traffic around them gave them careful distance. This is New York after all, and who knows what might happen in today’s gun culture. There was a moment of uncertainty in which the car driver looked liked he was thinking of fleeing the scene, then truck and car both meekly moved to the right and off at an exit. I could see the car driver as I passed him, pounding the steering wheel and bobbing his head in frustrated anger — at himself this time, for the damage to his car, for the probable arrest and loss of license — his lips clearly forming the shouted words “Son of a fucking bitch! SON OF A FUCKING BITCH!!”

The two vehicles and drivers passed out of my life in that moment, but they reminded me that road rage is a real thing, and clearly dangerous to everybody within range.

Changing gears for a second, let me quote a comment submitted on my recent (and not yet complete) GMOs-and-sociopaths series:

I’m not quite sure what your demented raving is about. I assume it has something to do with GMOs and Joe Camel.

If I am correct, I assume that you feel that GMOs are a force of Satanic evil in today’s world. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. It is anti-scientific kooks like you who are seeking to starve humans and destroy the environment. See

If I am wrong about this, please accept my apologies. Your gibberish misled me, unfortunately.

So here’s me, near-sighted nebbish driving my keyboard along the Internet highway, typing in my little essays on this and that, and then here’s this guy — someone named Robert Kelley, and I assume not one of my regular readers (who generally seem to take me as the well-meaning doofus I imagine myself to be) — zooming onto the scene and attacking me with pure, spitting anger.

Demented raving. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. Anti-scientific kook. Starving humans, destroying the environment. Your gibberish.

This would have bothered me just a short time ago, but I suddenly realize what it is. Road rage. In online form.

It’s not a personal attack against me, it’s an expression of the writer’s own world-directed frustrations and anger. Just as the two drivers in the highway incident likely didn’t know each other, weren’t reacting to each others as individuals, this writer is not reacting to me specifically. He’s just venting built-up steam.

This is not to say he may not have a point, of course. It is to say the point was probably delivered with wholly unnecessary ire, and that in itself is an indicator that the POINT isn’t the POINT.

I’ve seen it in plenty of places online. I got invited into a Facebook group a while back, something from the Pharyngula crowd, and made the mistake of saying something unflattering about face-covering tattoos and mods. Whew. You’d have thought I sodomized Mother Teresa. Road rage.

I’ve been in a few tiffs with online feminists, and oh boy, you do NOT want to piss those people off, even a little bit. A single wrong word will bring a howling mob after you, accusing you of hating women, of wanting them to be beaten and raped, of being a misogynist and mansplainer, an assault that will pretty much never end until you grovel and agree, or shut up and vanish. It doesn’t matter what you think of women, or want for women. Once you trigger the built-up anger, you’re suddenly the target of the online version of road rage. (Some of the most ardent attackers are men, by the way.)

Any blogger — hell, anybody online in any form, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — can tell you online road rage exists. You can be writing about the pleasures of cuddling kittens and someone will show up to accuse you of being Hitler. WHY DO YOU HATE THE KIDS WITH ALLERGIES, YOU SONOFABITCH??!!

Online road rage is just US, venting life’s frustrations at any convenient — and safe — target. The anger is real, and has real roots. Further, it seems fully justified to the people expressing it. To begin to understand it, you have to respect that fact.

But the thing about real road rage is that 1) we know it exists, 2) we know what it is, and 3) we do something about it.

We campaign against it. We fine the people who get caught at it. We require those who exhibit it to get counseling — anger management classes — or lose their licenses. We do that to make the roads safer, and to make sure life on the road, or just life generally, stays within some tolerable zone.

Nowhere in that counseling is there the assertion that the anger isn’t justified by real-life events, or that it doesn’t need to be expressed. Life in every era has its frustrations and digs, and this life-moment is … well, not only no exception, but possibly extra-super frustrating (you know, with mandatory “defensive driving courses” and such), beyond anything people not actually in a war zone have ever known.

Hell, I sometimes think it would be deeply satisfying to just trip one of those jackwagons walking around with his pants hanging down below his ass, and then kick him a time or two while he was down. In the vein of real road rage, I’ve wanted to shout at slow-driving man-grannies on the highway, “Get off the frickin’ road, you ancient fart!”

But in the building or continuation of online communities — something I’m definitely working on here in the background —  some of us have not yet grasped the necessity of civility.

We have to recognize that rage is not the best way to deal with each other. That the people who most exhibit the signs of online road rage — just for the helluvit, I’m going to call it ORR — while they may have a very good underlying point, are not doing themselves or the rest of us any favors in the way they express it. And note that in the road version, at least, we don’t let the ragers set the standard that defines the entire driving community.

We’re going to have to figure out ways to help each other learn to deal with the rage — which, again, may well be justified — in useful, positive ways.

Because rage itself is counterproductive to any discussion into which it is injected. One of my Wise Old Sayings is “Under the lash of strong emotions, humans become less intelligent.” Rage enters, reason exits.

So: Say anything you like to me in the comments. Make any argument or assertion. But keep it cool enough that we’re not simply screaming back and forth at each other for no good reason.

Let’s keep it peaceful, and just TALK.

Also: Robert (and Lausten), I’m getting to my point in those posts about GMOs. It’s a useful point, I think, and one left out of most of the polarized flame-fests that always seem to attend the subject. Stick around.


The Dark Side of the Sun

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups on Transhumanism and the Singularity, and I avidly read the articles and posts. But I don’t buy into every one of them. Yes, I want fantastic things to happen. Hell, I fully EXPECT fantastic things to happen. But … a lot of the articles are more about possibilities than realities.  For instance, I think we’ve been predicting safe, abundant fusion energy — any time now — for the past 50 years. I’ve kinda begun to wonder “What if it just isn’t possible?”

As to the idea of uploading human consciousness to computers, even I can think of some serious challenges to the idea: Considering that most of us isn’t exactly conscious, I have my doubts you could get a real person, warts and all, shifted over into an electronic domain.

The truth is, in the midst of my hopeful positivism, there’s a healthy helping of the negative. Because there’s some bad stuff coming too. A surprising amount of it is already happening.

If you take a fragmented view of the world, as so many of us do (most of us are so caught up in the noise of our own private lives we don’t even bother to pay attention to larger matters), you see a lot of little individual things going on. But if you look for patterns … oh, boy they’re there. And some of them are scary.

Here’s a couple of things, Little Scary instead of Big Scary, but also part of a pattern that, to me at least, appears related to human numbers. And what if, once you click together all the Little Scaries — like Dark Legos — you find you’ve built a Big Scary?

Little scary: Where Have All the Orange Roughy Gone?

As the following graphic shows, the orange roughy arrived with a bang and is now leaving with a long, drawn-out aquatic whimper.  The first sizeable catches were recorded in 1979.  A decade later the world catch peaked at a massive 91,000 tons.  And then, just as quickly, catches plummeted and now they linger around 13,000 tons a year.

The problem is that the orange roughy is a deep-sea species that cannot sustain the level of exploitation that our technology and policies have made possible.  It simply reproduces too slowly.  Orange roughy typically don’t start breeding until they’re 30 years old and can live up to 150 years. So catching orange roughy is much more like mining than fishing.  In effect, it’s more like a non-renewable resource!

Little scary: How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favorite fruit

During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they’d been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: [picture]

Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana plants into this rotting, fibrous mass in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Since then the pathogen, known as the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease, has slowly but steadily ravaged export crops throughout Asia. The fact that this vicious soil-borne fungus has now made the leap to Mozambique and Jordan is frightening. One reason is that it’s getting closer to Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s $8.9-billion-a-year worth of exported bananas is grown.

[ … ]

And we don’t need to imagine what that would mean for banana exports—the exact scenario has already happened. Starting in 1903, Race 1, an earlier variant of today’s pathogen, ravaged the export plantations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within 50 years, Race 1 drove the world’s only export banana species, the Gros Michel, to virtual extinction. That’s why 99% of the bananas eaten in the developed world today are a cultivar called the Cavendish, the only export-suitable banana that could take on Race 1 and live to tell.

One of the strong possibilities of human transcendence has to do with human population. Yes, I’ve heard all the cool assertions about what educated, empowered women do: they have fewer children. And I’ve read that human population is even now leveling off. I sure do hope it’s true.

But what if, as I suspect, we’re already well over the carrying capacity of the Earth? What if we’re at 7 billion and still headed skyward (to 11 billion!), when the sustainable population is more like 5 billion? Three billion? Less?

What if we TRANSCEND our own homeworld’s welcome?


Cross-Posting Frank Schaeffer

Not a HUGE fan of Patheos co-blogger Frank Schaeffer (“Why I Still Talk to Jesus”) but this is worth reading: The Slow-Motion Lynching of President Barack Obama.

Go over there and take a few minutes with it. For me the title alone was an eye-opener; “slow-motion lynching” opened doors in my head, giving me an A-Ha! that had been 6 years building.

One of the comments:

This president is as good as it gets. And more. I am with you ALL the way—he is part of the 99% but when it comes to character, ethics, compassion, intellect, and personal behavior, to name just a few attributes, President Obama is in the top 1% of this country’s presidents as people around the world easily see. But his backbone is yet another reason why he is beloved by most healthy and honorable Americans…

Tell you what, I’m amazed by the guy. I voted for Obama twice, and I have very few regrets. Because I saw what we had before, and because I looked at all the candidates since (Sarah Palin? Rick Perry? Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann???). But also because of what he’s done, and tried to do, and said, and tried to say.

I’m amazed at a great deal of what he’s accomplished, and doubly amazed at how little traction those accomplishments continue to get. (If Bush had gotten Bin Laden, we’d be carving his presidential likeness on a mountain by now. )

Hell no, I don’t like everything government’s doing right now. But behind the noxious smoke being cranked out 24/7 by FOX News, and Congress, and the GOP, and the slithering tangle of beer-bellied trailer-trash shitheads who sat grinning and waving flags through 8 years of Bush but who now think they’re political experts who deserve deep input into how government operates … there’s a bright, calm, decent guy trying to do his job.

And making a pretty good go of it, in spite of it all.

Years back when I was involved in small-town politics, I watched the local power players control the town council and the water board, sometimes literally winking and laughing when they pulled off dirty political shenanigans in full view of an enraged and fully-aware public. Now I see that scaled up and on the national stage.

We have a seriously twisted public square right now, something that scares the hell out of me. I’m just boggled that things can be this crazy, this out-in-the-open insane. I mean … FOX News can really DO this crap? Congressional Republicans can wreck the government at will, just for grins? And walk away smiling? And we LET them? Knowing some of what’s at stake?

It’s like we’re all stuck inside this weird media force field where nothing of outside reality can get through, where the only truly critical feedback we get is through comedians. And we’re okay with it. We’re letting it go on.

After all the smoke dies down, and assuming the country survives this — that what’s happening is not already a sign of unstoppable disintegration — I believe Obama will be seen as a truly great president.

I like to think he’s the herald of an extended period of reasonable government, an accidental statesman who got through a system created to filter out statesmen, and who helped shift things back toward sanity.

Rather than, say, a figure known to future history as the last dying gasp of working Democracy.


BTW, I wouldn’t mind talking to you Frank. The — well — SANITY of this piece impressed and surprised me, and also gave me a little wake-up regarding preconceptions about religious people. It would be interesting to talk about possible preconceptions about atheists from the goddy side.