Sunday, February 28, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
As many of you may know by know, the nation of Chile suffered a terrible earthquake today. From this AP article:
One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded tore apart houses, bridges and highways in central Chile on Saturday and sent a tsunami racing halfway around the world. Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a giant, and the head of the emergency agency said authorities believed at least 300 people were dead.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. It caused a tsunami that killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage along the west coast of the United States.
There were fears that today's earthquake would also trigger a deadly tsunami across the Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands.
With a rapt world watching the drama unfold on live television, a tsunami raced across a quarter of the globe on Saturday and set off fears of a repeat of the carnage that caught the world off guard in Asia in 2004.
By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — a full 16 hours after the quake — officials had already spent the morning ringing emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes and ordering residents to higher ground.
"We dodged a bullet," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.
Now, since a lot of religious nut jobs like Pat Robertson like to claim that natural disasters, like the recent earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti, are signs of God's wrath, then according to their "logic", two things should be obvious, God loves Barack Obama and hates Chile.
First, the evidence that God loves Barack Obama.
Exhibit A: The earthquake that struck Chile in 1960 and killed over 1,600 people caused a tsunami that killed people in Hawaii. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. Evidently, God caused the earthquake and tsunami to happen before the future president was born so that no harm would come to him.
Exhibit B: The tsunami caused by today's earthquake in Chile did not strike Hawaii. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is currently president. God knew that if Hawaii was severely damaged by a tsunami while Barack Obama was president, people like Pat Robertson would interpret it as a sign from God that God was angry with President Obama.
Second, God hates Chile. Since Chile is prone to such powerful earthquakes, God must be angry with Chile about something. But what could it be?
Abortion? Nope, according to this Wikipedia article, "The Chilean abortion law is considered one of the most restrictive in the world."
Gay rights? It doesn't look promising. Again, from Wikipedia:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Chile may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Chile, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples.
Although homosexuality was legalized in 1998 in Chile, several court rulings within the last decade demonstrate discriminatory policy. In Chile the current law against sodomy states that the age of consent for homosexuals is set at 18, whereas the age of consent for heterosexual sex is lower at 12.
Below are some excerpts from an ex-pat's personal anecdotes on encountering homophobia in Chile's capital of Santiago.
Today in English class in downtown Santiago, I mentioned that Manchester was celebrating Gay Pride. One of my students immediately responded, “I don’t like gays”. She told me that she’d seen a similar parade in Canada and that she hadn’t liked it because there were too many lesbians there. She thought that lesbians were women who “made the decision to be lesbian because they wanted to be fashionable or because they were too ugly to get a man." She said this without shame or without thinking for a moment that anyone might have a different opinion. She was a young, educated woman who firmly believed that homosexual was not something you were, but rather something you decided to be.
It wasn’t the first time I’d come across such blatant homophobia. I recently went out for some drinks with a group of young Chilean university students. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I had gay friends. “So you’re gay then?” “No, I just have gay friends”. This took a while to sink in. I talked about Manchester and the fact that gay marriage and gay adoption was accepted in England. The same girl chipped in, “Oh, but gay parents have gay babies”. I asked her how, with that logic, straight parents had gay children, but she didn’t answer. Perhaps she was the daughter of the taxi driver who, during my first month in the city, pointed out two guys together and told me that there weren’t men, they were ‘gays’. Worse still, on the computer terminal in the staff room at work, I was blocked from reading an article on the internet about Germain Greer because it contained the words ‘gay rights’.
So, if it is not abortion or gay rights, what could be the cause of God's beef with Chile? Two words: Michelle Bachelet. Besides being the current president of Chile, Ms. Bachelet is "a pediatrician and epidemiologist with studies in military strategy—served as Health Minister and Defense Minister under President Ricardo Lagos. She is a separated mother of three and a self-described agnostic."
Could God be punishing Chile because He hates Michelle Bachelet?
Exhibit A: Michelle Bachelet was born on September 29, 1951. Therefore, she was alive when the 1960 earthquake devastated Chile.
Exhibit B: Michelle Bachelet is separated from her husband and is an agnostic.
Exhibit C: Her presidential term ends this coming March 10. If God wasn't mad at Michelle Bachelet, the earthquake would not have happened before the end of her presidency.
So, the next time you encounter a Christian who speaks ill of President Obama, remember this post and tell the Obama bashing Christian that he or she is gravely mistaken. God loves Barack Obama. Therefore, to be against Obama is to be against God.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
After meeting our guide, we were issued our tubes, and then trekked for about 30 minutes or so through the jungle to get to the river where our tubing adventure would begin. Our guide was emphatic that we avoid touching any of the trees, as some were poisonous, and others had spikes that could puncture our tubes.
It didn't take long before were immersed in darkness, with only the flashlights strapped to our heads to help us find our way and the current of the river gently pulling us along.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Below is my roommate Sam with Marnie, the ship's first mate.
Besides Red-footed Boobies, another of the avian denizens of the island is the Frigate Bird. I was fortunate that the one below hovered long enough for me to be able to get a good shot of it properly centered.
Above is yours truly, though I believe it was taken after we had made our way to the end of the island where the observation tower was to observe the boobies. If memory serves, I had dunked myself with some water to cool off, which explains the dark area on my shirt.
The shot above is pretty much self explanatory.
When I saw the formation in the picture above, at first I thought it was a series of jagged rocks sticking out of the water. Even though it vaguely resembled a ship, I wasn't sure that it was. However, when I asked Marnie, she confirmed that it was a cargo ship that had gotten wrecked there.
Here we have Jerry, the Sundancer II's master chef, cooking lunch on the grill in preparation for our return. Here I have to digress a bit. For those of you who have never been on a live aboard before, there might be an expectation that it will a spartan kind of existence, with the food consisting of franks and beans or mac & cheese or something like that. I have to say, every meal Jerry prepared for us was a masterpiece worthy of any fancy restaurant. If there is a culinary heaven, it can be found on the Sundancer II. The food was that good.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Since nothing particularly eventful happened on Day 4, I figured I would skip right over to Day 5, for our dive to the world famous Blue Hole. During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, the Blue Hole was a cave complex. With the end of the Ice Age, sea levels rose and the cave structure collapsed and filled with sea water to a depth of some 480 feet. Consequently, seen from above, the Blue Hole looks like a dark blue dot in the Caribbean Sea surrounded by a coral atoll.
The early part of the morning was spent getting to the Blue Hole. In the photo above, Captain James and First Mate Marnie stand near the front of the Sundancer II leading the way like proper ship officers.
In this photo, the Sundancer II is just starting to enter the Blue Hole. You can make out the darker water in the middle and part of the surrounding atoll in the background. Below is a closeup of part of the atoll.
For me, the Blue Hole was going to be my most exciting dive yet because I would be descending deeper than I ever had before, to a depth of some 145 feet. The reason for diving to such a depth is because that is where the large stalactites from the old cave complex that once existed, and which form the main attraction for the Blue Hole, are to be found.
Most of the passengers participated in the dive. One of the older men refused to go because he had been there before. In fact, he had even objected to having the Blue Hole on the itinerary at all, claiming that there was really nothing to see there. Tara did not go either. Though her confidence under the water was starting to improve and she did not have any more mask flooding incidents, she felt she was not ready to dive to such a depth. However, she continued to improve markedly for the remainder of the trip, and I think given a few more days she could have handled the Blue Hole. The crew members who would be accompanying us on the dive were Marnie and John.
So, one by one, we did our giant strides in the water. If memory serves, I was the last to go in. As I submerged, I looked down and saw the rest of the group descending below me. Within a couple of minutes, I hit the thermocline and for the first time on the trip, I felt cold underwater. It took a moment for me to adjust to it. As we continued to descend, it grew darker and darker. We all had our underwater flash lights on, and we trained our beams on the walls as we continued on down.
After a few minutes, I can't remember how long, we reached 145 feet and saw the stalactites. There were two really large ones hanging from an outcrop. I swam up close to them and noted the tiny shells embedded in them. Below us, the hole would continue for another 340 feet or so. From what I was told, by Marnie I think, the water at the bottom of the hole was like a toxic slurry. The hole itself was slowly filling up from sediment that has been and continues to settle on the bottom, until one day it will eventually be filled up.
We spent about three minutes at our maximum depth and then we began to make our ascent to the surface. When we hit the thermocline on the way up, it was like suddenly entering a warm bath. It felt really good.
Before we could return to the Sundancer II, we had to do two safety stops instead of the usual one because of the depth we were at. The first stop, if I recall, was at about 25 feet, where we rested on a sandy portion of the atoll. Because it was a 5 minute safety stop instead of the usual 3 minutes, it felt like an eternity to me. I was a bit anxious about running low on air and I kept monitoring my air supply on my LPG while making a conscious effort to breathe very slowly. At one point, I tried making a smiley face in the sand to help pass the time, but it quickly dissipated. After the 5 minutes passed, we ascended a bit further, to 15 feet, for our second safety stop for 3 minutes. We had to hover in the water instead of using the Sundancer's hang bar, because the boat needed to be in the open water so that the hang bar would not damage the atoll or get stuck.
When I finally boarded the boat again, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I had successfully dove deeper than I ever had before. I still had to the buoyancy part of the Advanced Open Water course the next day. But my confidence in myself had grown and I knew I could handle it.
However, had I known that there was a possibility that there could be sharks in the Blue Hole, I might have felt a lot more nervous about going in there. Below is a short Youtube video that gives you an idea of what the Blue Hole is like if you have never been there. The diver who shot the video got some footage of sharks. What Larry told me was that sometimes sharks enter the Blue Hole during high tide and then get stuck in there during low tide, so they swim around in circles near the surface until the tide gets high enough for them to escape. Luckily, there were none in there on our excursion. While I was eager to see sharks during my dives, the Blue Hole, being a relatively enclosed place, was not the sort of venue where I would want to be in close proximity to them.
Andrea Friedman, the actress who provided the voice of the character in the recent Family Guy episode that drew the ire of Alaskan ex-governor Sarah "The Quitta from Wasilla" Palin, has issued her own statement on the issue.
My name is Andrea Fay Friedman. I was born with Down syndrome. I played the role of Ellen on the "Extra Large Medium" episode of Family Guy that was broadcast on Valentine's day. Although they gave me red hair on the show, I am really a blonde. I also wore a red wig for my role in " Smudge" but I was a blonde in "Life Goes On". I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line "I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska" was very funny. I think the word is "sarcasm".
In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.
Of course, what does Andrea Friedman know? She's just part of the liberal Hollywood elite that hates America. But seriously, the New York Times article I linked to above also has an interview with Ms. Friedman.
Thanks to my friend Andrea (not Friedman) for bringing this to my attention and for linking to this blog post.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Many of you will probably remember that Fox "News" correspondent Brit Hume, among others, had called on Woods to turn to Christianity in order to seek forgiveness and redemption. I did a post on it here, in which I criticized Hume for either being ignorant of or deliberately misrepresenting Buddhism.
In reading the transcript of Woods speech, this section caught my interest:
"I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught." (Underlined for emphasis).
The part I underlined is exactly the same point I made in my previous post. I will be interested to see if Hume has any reaction to Woods publicly stating that he seeks to rededicate himself to his Buddhist faith (assuming of course that Woods is being truly sincere). I certainly don't begrudge that Hume and others may have found solace for themselves in turning to Christianity. But they need to understand that other people can turn to plenty of sources outside of Christianity for inspiration to make positive changes in their lives.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Boehme ended up on my radar screen a few years ago when he was running for the Washington state legislature as a (well, you probably guessed it) Republican. I checked out his campaign web site, where he stated that atheists and secularists were the enemy of America or something along those lines. So, I e-mailed him and expressed my displeasure at him for categorically declaring such a thing. He replied to me, calling on me to be "civil." I laughed at that, because according to his campaign web site, I am an enemy of America, and yet he had the gall to allege incivility on my part. He never replied to my follow up reply, and to my knowledge, he did not win the election. But he apparently saw fit to put me on his e-mail list and I have since found myself receiving his e-mail sermons that are part of his "Revive America Project."
For the most part I find myself glancing briefly at them and then deleting them. But today's post caught my attention. Titled "Pondering The Haiti Earthquake--and Other 'Natural Disasters'." Note the "scare quotes" around Natural Disasters.
In a nutshell, with the emphasis on "nut", Boehme regurgitates what the infamous Pat Robertson said on his 700 Club program last month and defends Robertson's remarks. Below are excerpts of what he wrote.
"The politically correct (secular) view of the Haiti quake was that God was not involved in the calamity--only (maybe) in the relief efforts. How do they know? Why was there such a strong aversion to even considering that God could be a part of this natural disaster?
Here's the obvious reason: Secularists want to convince the world that there is no God--that they are the ultimate authorities and their forms of human government, including humanitarian relief, are the main things that should be trusted and appreciated. The atheistic interpretation of reality instructs people that there is no God, no such thing as sin and thus no sins to be repented of."
Wow! So, if I read Boehme right, he wants us to think that God murdered or permitted the death of over 200,000 Haitians. Therefore, we must cringe in fear lest the same thing happen to us.
"How do [we] know?" he asks, that the earthquake was not caused by God. Well, how are we supposed to be able to tell the difference between an earthquake resulting from God's wrath and an earthquake that just, well, happens? Are only earthquakes that kill people a sign of God's anger? If that is the case, then God must really hate poor, dark-skinned people, because rich countries can afford to build structures that are more resistant to earthquakes.
As for Pat Robertson, Boehme belches, "Pat Robertson was not saying as fact that the earthquake was God's judgment. He was just trying to understand the disproportionate aspects of suffering that have visited the Haiti portion of the island of Hispaniola. Could there be some spiritual reasons? Fair question if you believe in God, Satan, blessings and curses."
Well, you could try reading a little about the history of Haiti to understand the "disproportionate aspects of suffering" that have affected the people of Haiti. One cannot dismiss, for example, that Haiti had to agree to pay France 90 million gold francs in recognition of its independence in order to lift an embargo imposed on it by France, Britain and the United States. That the United States should treat Haiti in such a way shows a large measure of ingratitude because Haiti's successful revolt against Napoleon resulted in Napoleon offering to sell the entire Louisiana Purchase to the United States at a bargain price. In order to pay the onerous fee imposed on it, Haitian governments had to take out high interest loans and the debt was not paid until 1947.
That Haiti has been plagued by corrupt governments throughout much of it's recent history is no secret, though one need not invoke God or Satan in this. Many countries have had to endure kleptocratic regimes. What adds to Haiti's misery is that it is geographically situated in an area that is subject to frequent devastating hurricanes and tropical storms, as well as being located near an earthquake fault zone. Throw poverty into the mix, and you have a country that lacks the wealth to build sturdy structures that can withstand natural disasters.
"What are some of the possible realities behind natural disasters and environmental catastrophes that we experience on earth, including Haiti? I can think of four possibilities or combinations or them:
GOD: The Bible is clear that the God of the Universe uses weather and physical events on earth to reveal truth and draw people to change their lives."
Uh, yeah, right. Because the Bible says so.
"SATAN: The Bible also records that the devil, Lucifer or Satan, has some delegated powers to bring physical calamities upon people."
Okay, so maybe God outsourced the Haiti earthquake to Satan.
"NATURE: many of the physical disasters and calamities we face might not be the direct hand of God or Satan, but simply the fruits of a fallen and imperfect world that are allowed by the Creator."
Well, as I mentioned in my post "The Canyons of Mars", Jupiter's moon Io is the most volcanically active body in our Solar System. The last time I checked, there were no Satan worshippers or flaming homosexuals living there.
"HUMAN SIN: This possiblity involves God but stresses man's part in the curse of creation. None of this scenario is God's fault. It's the direct result of man's sin."
But how can you tell. Is there some kind of "Sin-O-Meter" where one can measure the magnitude of human sin until it reaches a point where acts of rape, gay anal sex, and murder attain a critical mass to cause an earthquake or a tornado?
"So why was there a devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 13, 2010? We don't know for sure, but it clearly could have been an act of God, or influenced by Satan, or simply involved fallen creation, and/or was a direct result of a curse because of people's sins."
Or, it is simply a matter of geologic forces acting as they have done for hundreds of millions of years. You conveniently left that one out, Ronny.
"It would be helpful for us, and the people of Haiti who were devastated by the earthquake, to seek the face of God for the reasons for their misfortune. In response to their repentance and faith, God just might use this terrible tragedy to break an awful and unusual curse on a nation and for the first time, establish it in righteousness, increased safety (better buildings), godliness and prosperity."
Notice the arrogance there. The earthquake must somehow be the fault of the people of Haiti. No recognition anywhere by Boehme of the role of France's brutal system of slavery, the crippling debts imposed on Haiti, the isolation imposed on her by the United States, which feared that the successful slave revolt in Haiti would spark similar revolts in the slaveholding regions of the southern American states, among other things. In the binary worldview of Boehme and his ilk, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake solely for ths sins of its people.
For people like Boehme, their human egocentric worldview requires that natural disasters be viewed as some kind of validation of their Christian faith. "Oh, those poor, wretched souls of Haiti got what was coming to them because they practice Voudou. If only they would accept the salvation of Christ, which we conveniently have done, they won't have such problems anymore."
Reading Boehme's bile made me recall something from an introductory book on Geology I read last year. In 1902, a volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of Martinique. The pyroclastic flow unleashed by the eruption caused the death of some 29,000 people in the island's capital of St. Pierre. One of the only survivors was a prisoner who was locked in a windowless cell. Do the likes of Boehme and Pat Robertson have any thoughts as to what the people of Martinique might have been doing to bring down divine wrath on them. Or how about the Mt. Saint Helens eruption in Boehme's home state of Washington in 1980 that killed 57 people. Maybe it was God's way of telling Ron Boehme to not be such a douchebag and Boehme just didn't get the message.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Around the same time, I had read this article in the February 2010 edition of National Geographic about Mormon polygamists in the United States. In this picture, the caption notes that "[f]emale FLDS members wear modest attire—ankle-length prairie dresses—even while swimming." The Mormon Church was established in the mid-19th century United States, and early adherents of the faith had trekked across the United States to Utah. The women in the FLDS wear basically the same kind of clothing as what women wore in the United States some 160 or so years ago.
I found myself struck by the obvious but previously little thought of fact that for many fundamentalist religious believers, what clothing they are required or aspire to wear is essentially determined by the clothing specific to the time and geographic location of that particular religion's founding.
I started to think of other examples of this. Another obvious one to me are the Amish, who trace their origins to late 17th century Switzerland. You also see this with Hasidic Jews, whose sect dates back to 18th century Poland. From this Wikipedia article, "Much of Hasidic dress was historically the clothing of all Eastern-European Jews (and non-Jews), but Hasidim have preserved more of these styles to the present day."
The difference between Hasidic Jews and the Amish, as compared to Islamic fundamentalists, is that the former two are generally insular groups, whereas Islam presents itself as a universal religion that seeks to convert everybody, regardless of their race, nationality, or culture. Thus, pious Muslims, wherever they live, assume the clothing habits of a 7th century Arab desert culture. It's one thing if you happen to live in a desert environment, as many Arab and North African Muslims do. It's another thing when you live in tropical South East Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, where Islamic dress strikes me as rather incongruent.
While the sentiment might exist in other religious cultures, one feature I have noticed with Islamic fundamentalists is that their vision of an ideal society is frozen in an idealized past where the Muslims were supposedly better Muslims than the ones who came afterwards. Thus, they feel the need to dress like they think the prophet Muhammed would have dressed, and to eat what they think he would have eaten, and so forth. Or, to borrow from a popular Christian song, "It was good for Muhammed, and it's good enough for me." But, as I believe I have demonstrated above, one's ideal of religiously appropriate attire is arbitrarily dictated by the time, place and culture of that particular religion's founding.