The psychology of Christianism

Link: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/04/cuccinelli-wants-rehearing-virginias-anti-sodomy-law

I have been thinking about Jesus Christ, all we know about him, and the genre he represents: the uniting, the possessing of greater mental power, intellectual and emotional superiority, who sees beyond all pity issues, who is always nonviolent, wise, transpersonal, and forgiving. People like Buddha, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and others occupy that category, which Ken Wilbur (I think) would call "teal" (or whatever the highest emotional, spiritual, and intellectual combined level can be for a human being). I am impressed with the dense humanism that transpires thinking about these people. Something beyond spiritual. Something that can turn water into wine, and even more miraculously, turn mean people good.

I also think about the way Jesus Christ inspired Christianity and then what happened. The unselfishness and tolerance, defining cores of Jesus Christ's teachings, certainly have not remained the core of Christianity or at least the institutionalized and prevailing way it has been implemented. As far as we can tell (and with some connecting the dots) Jesus Christ was probably bothered and then moved to action by narrow-mindedness, greed, intolerance, and selfishness. He picked a morally higher ground and showed (probably very eloquently) to his fellow human beings why they were in the wrong and how they will be healthier, fuller, and happier by elevating themselves to higher moral grounds.

Even to this day, there are many who identify with such altruistic and I would say humanistic interpretation of Jesus Christ's teachings, and I include there Mother Theresa & Pope John Paul II. I also include my own mother, who is genuinely altruistic. While religious and with an admitted relationship with her own god, she is convinced that acting out of heart (good) toward people in need is the right thing to do and that god will approve and like it - what else (than good) would any god want anyway? In other words, the humanistic and altruistic behavior, which is natural to her, takes care of god, no other rituals or churchgoing etc needed to convince god of your goodness.

Some others interpret religion differently though. They posit god is watching - with a critical eye & ready to punish for bad behavior. They put tremendous effort in trying to figure out exactly what god expects, how they can satisfy him best - in order for them to land the best of god's favors. They go to church to start, it's kind of obvious god would want you to do that. They say and argue the "right" things, such as speak out against gays, abortion, oral sex, etc. All that, because of conscience, of course.

Looking at the religious issues of modern day Christianity, the profoundly hypocritical and phony representations we see in the media (see link above), and then consider what Jesus Christ stood for made me realize this is really a measure of altruism versus selfishness, not the issue between atheism and religiousness. As I can see in my mother (or Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa), religious people can be very altruistic, yet a certain variety of religion associates with selfishness - the church-going, show-you-are-good, hypocritical kind, whereby the point isn't to do good for the sake of good, but to do good for the sake of "me me me", i.e. in desperately doing anything for a presumed god's favors per his presumed expectations.

Of Dinosaurs and Bigots

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Museum_of_Natural_History

I have been a member of the American Museum of Natural History. I think it is an amazing place. Every time I go, there is a nice crowd, with lots of kids, mostly mesmerized by all the incredible sights: dinosaurs, giant sloths, ancient fishes, and display of the mind-boggling variety of current species, arranged by taxonomic order.

I support the Museum; I consider that a worthy cause. I think the Museum itself is amazing (see link on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Museum_of_Natural_History). The story how the elder Roosevelt (the president's dad) helped Albert S. Bickmore's vision become a reality.

Today, the Museum is one of the biggest of any museum, of the entire world. It's staggering size is only surpassed by the breathtaking beauty and diversity of the exhibits. The diversity, which is reflective of the amazing diversity of our Earth, due to the plants and animals that populate it.

Evolution, driven by natural selection (first realized and shared with the rest of us by the genius Charles Darwin), is everywhere. You cannot look at all these exhibits and not see that. This is the 32 million specimen testimonial to evolution, driven by natural selection. Another genius of evolutionary biology, Stephen Jay Gould (who BTW built a career on the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which is contrasted to phyletic gradualism or gradual pace in evolution, more or less what Darwin seemed to have believed). Gould, as a child, spent time in the Museum and I don't think it is far-fetched to suggest we can largely thank the Museum for the inspiration that ultimately helped create the genius of Gould, who is one of my heroes (besides of course Darwin).

As I was going through the fantastic exhibits of the Museum and saw the children with apparent natural joy and fascination with the animals, present and past. I could not help ask myself: would those that deny evolution (who tell their kids that the world was created by god in 7 days and no more than 10,000 years ago) let their children fully delve themselves into these joys? Or would they view the astonishing display of biological diversity these exhibits offer as evil that bother them for being ideologically "wrong"? As if nature is wrong?

I don't know. But as a parent I certainly cannot imagine any ideological agenda to take away such joy from my kids; the discovery that is one of our core values as humans, the opening of their minds. I don't think any caring and loving parent should let anything compromise all that.

I feel something may be wrong with blocking and meddling with science when it comes to kids, interfering with the way they could acquire the beauty of this world we happen to live in. Crippling the future objective vision of these kids, who are in a fertile age and can absorb anything. Of course we do have much bigger problems, poverty, suffering, disease, etc. But blocking our future generations chance to become free-minded scientists and thus the ability to tackle our future scientific challenges is a great liability. Who knows how many Stephen Jay Goulds (or Charles Darwins, for that matter), Nobel prize winners, discoverers of new therapies, pioneers of biotechnological breakthroughs those bigots have managed to let never be, taking away their chance to be inspired by those dinosaurs and the fascinating diversity of biology as shown in the American Museum of Natural History.

"Popular Vote" Anyone?

Link: http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/obama-romney-race-enters-last-100-days-1.3867423

I am just reading around about the elections this year. I have not voted ever, either in the US or in my native Hungary, either for local or for general elections, except for 1990 when Hungary had their first free elections. Generally, I never believed that my vote could make a difference. First, because it has such a minuscule effect on the final count; but second, more importantly, even if I had the power to decide between party A versus party B candidates, what difference really would party A make against party B and vice versa? Nothing. They are all just politicians who will say whatever gets them elected and then pursue their own agenda, whatever that may be, and try to mislead their electorate about that in a highly sophisticated manner. In fact it is so sophisticated and thus requiring so much time, effort, and resources, that current democratic politics is all about the reelection for those in office and not really work toward long-term goals to actually help their voters' causes. Who cares about long term? If you are removed from office at the next elections, then long-term is irrelevant. So it is irrelevant. And that is why we will never get things right in this system. But anyway, that's not what I wanted to discuss, even though that's a good discussion for another day.

What I was mulling about is the issue of the "popular vote". Well, I am actually a permanent resident, eligible to apply for US citizenship. I am excited about that, even though I have been so busy I really did not have time to think about the application. That's despite having been eligible for years now (although not quite yet at the last presidential election). Now, considering this is an election year, I toyed with the idea to get my citizenship in place by election day so I can vote. Not because my generally negative opinion about the significance of voting has changed, but just as I voted once in my life in 1990 for the sake of history, this could be historical. Back in 1990 I became eligible to vote for the first time in Hungary (with everyone else there) and now I could be eligible to vote for the first time in the US.

When I discussed this with my immigration attorney, he pointed out that I should really not sweat it, in terms of elections, as my vote in Maryland would make no difference anyway. MD is likely going to be going strongly democrat and isn't considered one of the 9 swing states where the elections are expected to be decided (see attached article). Then I recalled the infamous Gore-Bush election when it was announced that Bush won after all (although it depends on your point of view), but also that Gore won the "popular vote".

Excuse me? The US electoral system discards people's vote, their right to vote, just because their state is strongly going one or the other way? Then it doesn't really count toward the final tally? Once a district is won by a candidate, then it matters none how strongly. In effect, many people could be like me: they can vote if they want to, but that really does not make any difference in a non-swing state.

I wonder how nobody is outraged by this to the point of wanting to overhaul it. Clearly, all what should matter is the popular vote. If this is one country, which they say it is, then states and districts should not represent themselves as a whole but have each of their voting citizens represent themselves as individuals, period.

Anyhow, it looks like I won't have my citizenship ready by elections anyway, as nothing has been filed up to now or even getting ready for that. So the time certainly will be too short for my paperwork to go through in time for the elections. But, as my lawyer suggested, I won't really bother about the fact that means I cannot vote in November, because turns out my vote would not have made the slightest difference anyway, thanks to the system that uses the "popular vote" as some curiosity as opposed to what it absolutely deserves: to be the only kind of vote to decide the next president of the United States.

Aurora: There Will Be More (Unfortunately)

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-v-taylor/aurora-no-more_b_1691814.html

...and there isn't much you can do about it. That's more than upsetting. It is horrible. But this is one of the aberrations of our society, the "democracy" we love, the American history, and human nature.

The link on Huffingtonpost is to an article by Robert Taylor to ask your advocacy, with a title "Aurora: No More". But realistically, as much as I wish advocacy could help, it is a lost cause. Politicians operate by polls, liability, and their perception what gets them re-elected. That's why gay marriage is becoming interesting, electorally speaking, as the public polls cut it right around the middle, 50%. Therefore, you cannot safely bank on either side for political gains any more. I suspect the gay marriage issue, as much as it is so intriguing to most, will be marginalized and pushed off of the top of electoral rhetoric (which I think is good, because this issue, while important to an important minority, definitely isn't the most critical issue we have to spend a lot of time addressing).

Not so with gun control. In this case the split is NOT in the middle, but per latest polls only about 44% of people support stricter gun laws and declining (there may be a transient surge as a result of each mass murder committed by a psycho with "legally" obtained guns, but the general trend is downward). Which is a clear and unconditional victory for the gun lobby.

To somebody who grew up in a country where guns were essentially outlawed and thus gun violence was essentially non-existent, on the surface it is baffling how in the face of incomprehensible tragedies there isn't a massive outcry, uprising, and riots for profoundly stricter gun controls on the federal level. How one tragedy like this after the other, getting only greater in their scope, won't produce a reaction of sense, humanity, and reason (which is a society wide full and uncompromising overhaul of gun laws).

But then again, we are dealing with the US population, bred increasingly on a culture of hate and intolerance, and justified violence. It is honorable to kill fellow humans, for whatever reason, in another country, as long as they are labelled by somebody as "enemy combatant" or something like that. We encourage violence as long as it is directed against foreign cultures and "dictators" we decide are against our values or (in our assessment) are trying to destroy us. (Don't get me wrong, I do realize we have to defend our interests and that there really are people who are trying to hurt us, but then how we deal with them is what the major decision point is.)

That culture, i.e. encouraging and honoring the killing other humans as long as that happens under an arbitrarily established set of circumstances, plus the romanticizing of violence in pop culture will definitely mess up minds. BTW on that notion of circumstances, the soldier who went on a rampage killing residents randomly (including women and children) got confused and probably still does not get it why he isn't a hero instead of a villain some now try to label him (and investigate, criminalize him, etc).

Unfortunately, looking at the 44% figure, if you follow Mr. Taylor's advice and do the right thing to call your representative, even if all the 44% of us will do (who support tougher gun control laws), we will still be weighed, in the eye of our representative, against the other 56% of constituents, who are against tough gun laws. You do the math. Of course this is not as simple as this, as that 44% figure is from a national poll. I am sure in Colorado we are probably looking at a sub-10% figure.

Why would a senate or house of representatives candidate listen to you, preparing their next campaign, when they know promising an agenda toward tougher gun laws would surely mean a good number of lost votes going (as the majority is against tightening gun laws) and in fact could even effectively mean a lost seat (and what else can matter more). Or why would either of the presidential candidates take this on? To save human lives? To start creating a culture of sense and humanity? Are you kidding me? With this electorate and what they feel about stricter gun laws, it would be a stupid move, possibly a political suicide attempt to step up there and advocate tightening gun control.

As pessimistic that sounds, I suggest that calling your representative is not the only thing you can do. I think we can only help this society if we educate and ultimately change the culture of guns, the minds and hearts. There is no other way in the present construct. You could litigate this through courts, doing the right thing against public majority opinion, like what's happening with gay marriage (assuming opponents are still is a slight majority), but there the constitution is on the right side. In terms of gun control, it is on the wrong side.

You can write about this (like what I am doing), talk to people, discuss, educate, fund related causes, whatever you can do. Like the public opinion changed so much on gay marriage, it can happen with gun controls, too. That will likely take years and many massacres, but that's what will have to happen, I don't see an easier way out of this.

Online Privacy and Internet-Based Business Models

Link: http://www.itworld.com/it-managementstrategy/279709/microsoft-just-made-internet-little-more-private-everyone

Chances are you have provided your name, email address and/or phone # many times when using internet services. Besides having those databases offering mildly useful (to you, the user) services (if any) to help remember you choices, preferences, whatever, the primary purpose of this is to add you to some contact list. The longer the list, the better, as there is a market price for every contact.

Chances are that the service you were using will turn a profit on selling you (sorry, your contact info) out to whoever wants to buy, usually telemarketers and other shady businesses that thrive on cheating and dishonesty (which I consider bothering innocent people who most certainly did not agree or want to be bothered, without making absolutely sure they don't mind).

Congress generally has been very lenient toward these practices, as for the most part, a business that is based on "sort of" misleading customers, but still produces revenues is still a business and of course they need to be reelected at some point so donors associated with businesses like that would be more enthusiastic if our congress members were not out to get them aggressively. The tides may be turning due to public outrage...

Take for example IE. They just came out with their version 10, in which tracking is disabled as a default. So why is this relevant? Well, for some time now, pretty much any major browser has offered that as an option and the savvy and technologically more literate, who also happen to be annoyed by advertisers tracking their every move on the internet, could disable the tracking already. But to make that default is huge, as it essentially means that the majority of internet users are now lost to those shady advertisers.

It also means that Microsoft (who is on the losing end of the browser wars right now) felt that consumer discontent with the unwanted advertising and tracking etc reached a point where the appeal of such a function (do-not-track as default) to consumers outweighs the ignorance of this issue. It remains to be seen whether they made the right calculation. However, it definitely signals a new era we are entering, in which we can take better control of our privacy.

Well, what does it all mean for Facebook, which just went public? Quite possibly nothing good. Facebook's business model is actually based on ads (despite the Facebook movie's Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network being shown as abhorring selling them out to advertisers). Their low click rate has already been an issue, and now this... To make it simple, their business model outlines 2 main areas of income. One, the ads; and two, selling their massive user lists to 3rd party internet advertisers and other shady entities (whoever buys).

While neither of these 2 will help maintain Facebook's "cool" factor, they could spell trouble greater than that. First, the ads are not only not cool, but they are actually annoying and deterring. Nobody wants to see all these scary ads (scary because they are a result of sophisticated targeting obviously indicating their high level of understanding of you habits somehow) when they are logging in to connect with their friends and family.

Second, and this is even a greater problem, if privacy concerns are gaining ground, just as you are seeing in the Microsoft decision over do-not-track in IE, FB's ability to sell out any of their user databases (without the users' consent) is going to be curtailed and/or even eliminated.

I think (dream) that one day some level of transparency will prove to be a needed part of the most sustainable internet business models. I think it is OK to sell out consumer data (browsing, contact, ordering, etc) when somebody clearly agrees to that. And I don't mean some vague blanket consent that can be freely used, but to break it down specifically, for EACH case your data is shared. Something like "you are receiving this email because we are about to share your entire timeline, chatting habits, sexual preferences, favorite cuisines, home telephone number with the company 'worstshadytelemarketer.com' and we are getting 1.03 USD for this sale of your data. Please let me know if this is OK with you". And if they get no reply they could not take it as a yes.

At the same time, you could have a tiered user agreement, in which you could pay a user fee (say $10/month or something like that) for all the services and see no ad, have none of your data shared. Of course I am naive and it may be a gross underestimation of how much your data will be worth and how much it costs to maintain these services every month if those 2 income making options (related to your being a FB user) are eliminated.

It will be interesting to see how it will play out in the next couple of years. For now, I will stay a FB user and remain braced for my data being used/misused, as to me personally the advantages of FB services outweigh the downsides. Barely. That could change any moment...