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Archive for July, 2008

Did the American Physical Society reverse its stance on global warming?

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 19, 2008

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

The right wing blogosphere has been all atwitter the past couple of days over a blog post by Michael Asher at DailyTech alleging that the American Physical Society (APS) had reversed its previous position that human activity was fueling global warming.

“The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming “incontrovertible.”

In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,”There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.”

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity — the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause — has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.”

The APS is the second largest organization of scientists in the world and one of the most prestigious. It publishes over a dozen scientific journals with Physical Review and Physical Review Letters among them, as well as organizing over twenty scientific meetings a year. So if the APS issues a statement that it doesn’t think anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real, then the world has good cause to sit up and take notice. “Deathly news for the religion of Global Warming,” as one right wing pundit put it.

Except that’s not what happened.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?

Posted by Eye4Cards on July 18, 2008

To spread or not to spread: that is a good question. Here are a few more:

  • Is a proselytizing atheist the equivalent of an evangelical Christian?
  • Are atheists guilty of believing dogmatic, absolutist truths?
  • Is atheist activism effective?

These are a few of the common questions I’ve pondered now for several years concerning the effectiveness of the atheist communities that spend massive amounts of time and energy countering religious activists and apologists. In short, I believe the answers are no, sometimes, and somewhat.

The title of this post may be a little misleading. It’s a great anagram that begs to be used, but it seems a little harsh to me. I don’t believe the majority of evangelical Christians are evil or intend malice, or that spreading your “faith” or lack thereof is necessarily a bad thing. I do wonder how we best go about it.

There are some basic conclusions that I have drawn so far. I don’t think we have enough data to have concrete answers for many of my questions. The nature of the individuality and independence of the typical freethinker makes it difficult at best to attempt a unifying strategy for most effectively communicating our commonalities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.

There are some definite, major differences in how atheists “preach” compared to evangelicals.

Here I could go into a rant about how I believe the specific dogmas of each religion and their competing sects are all individual memes vying for your attention psychologically and are analogous to viruses, but I won’t.

I could also talk about how science is comprised of memes known as facts and these factual memes are much more difficult to spread because they are hard to transmit from host to host due to their complexity and specificity and yet they can be very effective and enduring, but that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, I wonder instead whether we should be focused on relieving the dissolutions of the religious by continuing to focus on questioning dogma, or whether we should spend more time extolling the wonders and virtues of the natural world and science.

There have been some ingenious arguments against the existence of any gods of any organized religions. Yet still the need to believe persists. I’m sure continued education is necessary, but I doubt education is enough; otherwise, religion would have been dead long ago. Many of the answers people seek have been laid out for centuries in science and philosophy books. It is not a simple solution to just give everybody access to all of our collective knowledge.

I also grow tired of religion bashing. It is not that it isn’t easy or fun. It is. But I question the effectiveness of convincing people of the error of their ways. You don’t even have to actively insult believers to turn them away. Simply point out fallacies and contradictions and you will still lose your audience.

I’ve been thinking more about presenting the positives of freethought and science and philosophy. There is still the problem of being unable to reach those who don’t desire real truths or answers or even knowledge, but then those people are unreachable anyway.

All evangelism is simply the desire to spread the truth. Every religion thinks they have it, just as we think we know all the facts we preach are the truth. The obvious difference is that the “truths” of science are verifiable and up for debate and discussion. But this wouldn’t keep me from wanting others to know truth if I were religious and thought I had all the answers. This is why I don’t necessarily disdain Christian evangelicals for attempting to spread what they truly believe is the Gospel truth. They think they are doing you a great deed freeing you from Hell just as we think we are freeing them from error.

Concentrating on showing why non-belief is valuable and worth living for is in great demand nowadays. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked the same basic questions in one form or another: “What is there to live for without God as a reason for our existing? How can we know right from wrong without divine guidance? Why bother living a good life if this existence is random and meaningless?”

We’ve already done the debunking for centuries with many of our greatest minds spending vast amounts of time and energy telling the religious why they are wrong and how. The religious are pretty familiar with these arguments. But it seems few of them are familiar with where to turn once they’ve decided to turn from the comforting idea of God.

We still run into the problem of falling on deaf ears, but focusing on talking about why and how to live a good life without God is likely to be something refreshing and new to many of the ears that do listen.

My guess is that there will still be a need to debunk as long as there are religions that refuse to be debunked. I just think that the more people understand basic science and critical thinking, the less people will need to be debunked over time. This will take generations if not centuries. Progress never moves as fast as needs and desires. We might not have centuries to do this if some of our current trends continue, but I continue to inject a little optimism in with my skepticism. There is so much we can do and improve in this world, and so much to live for, that it would be foolish to simply give up and leave it in the hands of God and his evangelists.

More later…

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Chemistry- Peroidic Table 2.0 with helpful videos

Posted by Andy D. on July 15, 2008

I want to point out a cool new interactive periodic table that Richard Dawkin’s website featured! Do you remember the image of the perodic table from high school chemistry class? I barley remember they are organized by the number of electrons and carbon is the #$@. I get a little flustered when reading scientific papers that mention the elements and this will help me enormously. We need more scientists doing things like this! Kudos!

Learning is easier now for those who really want it with websites like this and others such as EOL, Google Earth/Sky, and the World Wide Telescope. I hope The University of Nottingham team will explain radio active decay of Carbon 14, potassium argon, uranium into lead to help us deal with the ignorance of young earth creationists.

This is the video for Hydrogen!

OK- this is a very, very, minor point and I hesitate to bring it up. I will because you freethinkers are smart and have great senses of humor. I know that the image of the scientist Martyn Poliakof fits the stereotype of what a crazy mad scientist looks like. I don’t expect or want all scientists to be lipstick scientists or be as charismatic as Neil deGrasse Tyson, but could we lose the pocket protectors and striped shirts with ties that don’t match? That is some crazy hair! I know Einstein had some crazy hair, too. What is left of my hair is hard to manage, so I sympathize. I applaud the effort and share their enthusiasm and goals, but I think someone who is already attracted to the science will love this, but if they are trying to get to the semi-interested lay person, that image isn’t helping. If he was working on major scientific lab work or even higher education his work speaks for itself, but he has stepped into the main stream public, which I love and it is very much needed.  A simple change of shirt and hair cut would help. Am I wrong? Am I jerk for mentioning this? Scientists have a PR problem when framing science and I am offering some minor constructive criticism. I am surprised no one brought this up on Dawkin’s site. Again, I do really like the website and everyone should bookmark it.

Posted in Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Now

Posted by Skeptigator on July 14, 2008

I’m positively psychic. I wrote my last post, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Later, a few days ago and had it post today. It turns out today is the day that President Bush will supposedly lift the executive ban on off-shore drilling today.

“White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said initially the president wanted to move in concert with Congress but decided to go ahead alone after being rebuffed by Democratic leaders and a relentless upward spike in energy prices.” [emphasis mine]

Bush will go it alone? Say it ain’t so…

In all seriousness, the executive ban on offshore drilling, opposed until recently by his little brother, was enacted by George H. W. Bush in 1990. Apparently the reasons Bush Sr. put this executive ban in place no longer are a factor, because I’m sure that Bush Jr. spent lots of time strategery-ing this out in his mind.

This lifting of the executive ban is honestly just a political stunt and will have little to no effect since the Congress itself has it’s own ban. Plus even if the congressional ban were lifted today it would take 5 to 10 years for any of that oil to make it to market. Of course, the environmental impact would be felt almost immediately.

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Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Later

Posted by Skeptigator on July 14, 2008

My post today is going to talk about oil. My truck loves oil, well gasoline anyway, it guzzles it like it’s going out of style.

Doing something about the price of oil basically comes down to two kinds of strategies. The first strategy is getting us off of oil. This in my opinion is the best strategy but it’s something that will take many years if not decades. The second strategy is to make oil cheaper. This is, at best, short-term and therefore the one most politicians like to talk about.

The first strategy, Long-Term Strategy, usually involves all kinds of nebulous, conceptual plans about exploring alternative energy sources, such as, wind, solar or nuclear and includes creating alternative fuel infrastructures. They often entail a “manhattan project-style” focus and investment from the top-down, governmental-level and usually involve some level of personal-behavior changes, such as recycling, more energy-efficient appliances and switching to CFL light bulbs. I think this is a very well thought out plan but would require a major push from the top down, it’s Scientific American’s Solar Grand Plan.

While I personally think these long-term plans are all necessary they won’t ever happen if the price of oil is low and (consequently) gasoline sits at $2 or $3 per gallon. The costs of these alternatives are simply too high to compete with cheap, energy-dense gasoline. It just won’t happen. History tells us it won’t happen. During the oil crisis of the 70’s the cost of gasoline was higher (quadrupled in price in just few months) and it’s availability was less (sharp decline in production) than it is today and yet where are all of the alternative fuels? There was no push then and there will be no push now. The nature of the Long-Term Strategy is just not politically expedient and the fuel shortages and high prices just didn’t last long enough. They were a hiccup.

I know that’s kind of downer to think about but let me give you a little hope. If the high cost of gasoline remains high and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, if not forever, then and only then will the Long-Term Strategy look more and more appealing and may actually gain some political ground. In my mind, the only way that I can see the Long-Term Strategy ever happening is to have gas remain at $4, $5 or $6 a gallon. Maybe hope isn’t the right word, but you get my point.

The second strategy, Short-Term Strategy, is to try and alter the price of a barrel of oil or directly affect the price of a gallon of gas immediately. These kinds of strategies are the most politically expedient and will almost certainly make no difference in the long run. An example of this strategy you see today is McCain’s suspend-the-gas-tax-for-three-months strategy. Politically-expedient, pathetically-pandering and ineffectual to say the least. In 2000, The great state of Indiana suspended the state gas tax when gasoline was a horrific $1.75 a gallon. It did nothing then and has had no effect whatsoever (maybe except contributing to $30 million dollars worth of a budget shortfall from lost tax revenue). So let’s check my arbitrary list. Politically-expedient, check. Pathetically-pandering (I won’t mention this was all done in the summer and fall run ups to the 2000 election cycle), check. And ineffectual, what’s the price of gasoline today?, check.

I don’t want to create the impression that I am drawing some kind of false dichotomy. Many groups propose a combination of the above strategies. However, you can often tell when their strategy is a short-term one when the long-term elements are often nothing much more than lip service and vice versa.

That brings me to the reason for this post. There is a new strategy being touted by the one and only Newt Gingrich. His organization, American Solutions, has a new campaign called Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less.

Here’s a YouTtube of Gingrich giving a speech on this very topic,

“The 3 things you could do immediately that would dramatically lower the cost of oil…”

1) The first thing Gingrich proposes is that President Bush immediately release oil from our strategic oil reserves. The purpose of this strategy is directly impact the price of a barrel of oil, short-term, by punishing oil speculators. The theory goes that if you release this oil and flood the market with supply and since our demand for oil remains relatively steady there will be a correlating drop in price. This also has the very sweet taste of revenge added in because many oil futures speculators will lose their shirts, having bet that prices will continue to rise.

I’d like to make one minor point and that is if we decide to release 50% of our oil reserves we will only be able to release 4.4 million barrels a day of oil onto the market for a maximum of 80 days. To put this into little bit of perspective, the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil a day. I don’t know what the impact of this release will do to actual gasoline prices and I dare say no one knows for sure either, although I’m sure someone could come up with a more reasonable prediction, it looks like for something shy of 3 months we will be able to increase total oil on the market by 20%. The impact of this exercise in reality is that it will have no effect to our over-time steady supply of oil. This will only create a temporary dip in the price of gasoline, at best, and at worst it will eliminate half of our strategic oil reserves since we aren’t sending anymore oil into the oil reserves. It will however severely hurt anybody with oil futures that come due during this short-lived time of lower price per oil barrel. Of course, punishing oil futures speculators is exactly Gingrich’s point.

Here’s where I have a major problem with this strategy in principle. The purpose of our government in regulating equities markets is to create trustworthy and transparent markets. The regulations that went into effect after the Great Crash of 1929 in the U.S. effectively created the modern regulatory institution of the SEC whose purpose was to ensure that our markets could be relied upon. There are reams of regulations dedicated to preventing or at least making it very difficult to execute a mass “pump and dump” scheme on the markets, therefore, liquidating peoples money and creating turbulence in the marketplace.

What Mr. Conservative, lassez-faire Republican Newt Gingrich wants to do is to artificially “dump” on the markets. What ever happened to the free market, sport? Talk about the worst kind of market tampering. Another case of political ideology trumping the lip service this guy pays to “conservative principles”. The funny thing is you get all kinds of people who decry any kind of regulation of the markets and at the same time they actually support this guy.

2) The second thing he mentions is looking where the oil is. He mentions Rocky mountain shale oil, drilling in Northern Alaska and drilling for oil in the Gulf. What Mr. Gingrich fails to mention is the environmental damage that shale oil requires. If you didn’t know shale oil requires that you take a “reserve”, dig out the shale and suck out all of the oil. Whole mountains are dug up to do this. Drilling for oil also has major environmental issues which is precisely why it is illegal to do so. Because if Brazil screws up an oil rig in the Atlantic the environmental impact affects more than just Brazil. I’m not sure Gingrich is aware but our oceans are all connected. I have actually been in Florida swimming at a beach that had globs of oil in the water from a recent “oops” on an oil rig. There are reasons this activity is not allowed.

The other thing to notice is that he bills this as an immediate solution. The exploration, drilling and start-up time for a new drilling site, even if approval and permits were in place today, takes years before the first barrel is shipped to a refinery which takes additional time to refine into gasoline before it goes to market. His “immediate” solution years if not upwards of a decade.

I do want to bring your attention to the total lack of information citing any negative effects that drilling has. According to Newt, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing this. Psst, notice the name of the campaign.

3) The third “immediate” thing we could do is “maximize alternative fuel sources” and speaks very clearly and correctly about what we can do with nuclear power and a switch to an hydrogen economy. I support that one hundred percent but I question how Gingrich’s plan will accomplish this. Again, immediate seems to be a relative-term. Does anybody know how long it takes a nuclear power plant to come online? The Canadians have managed to build and bring online a nuclear reactor in 6 1/2 years, however in the U.S. more reasonable estimates have been coming in at 10-15 years from start to finish.

This perhaps reveals my bias against Gingrich but his third point is little more than lip service to a long-term strategy. I can, however, say this with a clear conscience because his campaign is not called Nuclear Here, Nuclear Now, Pay Less. No, his plan is called Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less.

Seriously his simple 3 point plan comes down to a lobbying effort to get us to drill in the Gulf coast and in the ANWR region of Alaska. Period. He knows that no President is going to funk with the markets by dumping oil from the strategic oil reserves. There’s just simply not enough oil to have any real impact beyond punishing speculators in the short-term. He knows no President would want to show how little our strategic oil reserves actually contain and that it isn’t much more than a PR campaign.

Gingrich also knows that nuclear is not an immediate solution to anything. It simply takes too long for nuclear power plants to go live to have any impact “immediately”. Turning garbage to gas? “More fuel-efficient” vehicles? Please. This comes off as nothing more than a hand-waving exercise.

To further drive home my point, here is follow-up video from Gingrich,

Please note that of the three points he mentions earlier he chooses to reiterate that you can “speak out about the need for higher production and lower prices” (Item #2 above)  and that we should call our Senators and tell them that we want them to “follow a policy of drilling here, drilling now, so that we can all pay less” (again, Item #2). To further his point he then speaks about the two new oil reserves that Brazil has found and that, by the way, Brazil is energy independent. He wants us to talk to our congressman about shale oil strip-mining, drilling off our coasts and in Alaska. (Again, Item #2)

To end his follow-up he warns us about the new Warner-Lieberman bill that would raise gas prices. This evil about to be perpetrated on the people is an attempt to cut green-house gas emissions by 65% of 2005 levels by the year 2050. Of course, Gingrich has a problem with this since he doesn’t accept the science behind Global Climate Changes. In addition, the rise in gas prices he cites is likely attributed to a study underwritten by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Will this bill likely raise gas prices? Probably, however I would like to see a study performed by a disinterested party. By the way, the study said that this bill would increase gasoline prices by .48/gallon, by 2034.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen gas go up about a $1 in just the last 16 months from good old supply and demand economics.

To sum it all up. The arguments are inconsistent internally by containing pathetic market tampering vs. Gingrich’s long held conservative free market rhetoric. The purpose of this campaign is to open drilling in the ANWR region and elsewhere, despite the smoke and mirrors of the “maximize” alternative fuel sources bullet point. And I think Gingrich’s follow-up pretty much confirms my point. And his plan offers a long-term strategy for gaining energy independence only if we produce and refine oil here. This does nothing to switch us to the ultimate in energy independence, renewable energy. We’ve only shifted our reliance on a finite supply of energy from one place to another that will not “benefit” us for another decade.

I remain skeptical Mr. Gingrich.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

FreeThought Fort Wayne’s August Meeting

Posted by Skeptigator on July 12, 2008

What: FreeThought Fort Wayne August Meeting
When: August 13th, 2008 7PM-9PM
Where: Main Branch, Allen County Public Library, Meeting Room B
Desc: August 13th will be mostly focused on discussing the then recent talk by author Robert M. Price. Bring a snack to share! As usual the discussion will be moved to a local pub. Public is always welcome

For more information, contact@freethoughtfortwayne.org

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Eddie Tabash on the threat of the religious right

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 12, 2008

Edward “Eddie” Tabash is an American lawyer and atheist who has been fighting to preserve the separation of church and state for over thirty years. He is also known for debating prominent Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig. Eddie Tabash is currently the chair of the national legal committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as the chair of the First Amendment Task Force for the Council for Secular Humanism. In this series of four videos from a recent lecture given at the Center For Inquiry Ontario in Toronto, Eddie Tabash speaks plainly about the ever-present danger to the U.S. Constitution from the religious right. Videos after the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in FreeThought, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Robert Price to speak for FreeThought Fort Wayne

Posted by Skeptigator on July 11, 2008

FreeThought Fort Wayne is bringing another speaker to the Fort Wayne, Indiana area. On Wednesday, August 6th beginning at 7:00PM, Robert M. Price will be giving a public lecture at the Downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library on his new book, Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticism. Please read the book and come prepared to ask questions during the Question and Answer period.

For more information regarding Robert Price’s lecture in Fort Wayne or FreeThought Fort Wayne, please contact: contact@freethoughtfortwayne.org

Download the Flyer Here (PDF, 716KB)

About the Book

The following is an excerpt from the review of Robert Price’s book, Top Secret,

America may be the land of plenty, but in the midst of our Walmarts, enormous supermarkets, and other signs of material surfeit, it seems that many are experiencing a gnawing spiritual hunger. New religions, spiritualities, and religious therapies attract throngs of believers to megachurches, Yoga classes, and the bestseller bookshelves. The latest popular fad in spirituality is Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, which promises both success and spiritual fulfillment, and is endorsed by no less than Oprah Winfrey.

If you’re trying to make sense of all the offerings in this confusing spiritual wonderland, Top Secret is just the book for you. Noted religion scholar Robert M. Price examines the historical roots and the current appeal of today’s pop mysticisms. Critical and appreciative at the same time, Price applies his impressive background in theology and biblical criticism to put these trends in perspective. Among other popular movements and books, Price discusses:

  • Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
  • Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and New Thought
  • Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles and the popular works of Marianne Williamson
  • Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God
  • James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy
  • The Jewish Kabbalah, recently made popular by Madonna
  • Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel and his popular Your Best Life Now
  • Diedre Blomfield Brown (AKA Pema Chödrön) and American-style Buddhism

Whether you’re a skeptic looking for a rational approach to understanding current religion or a seeker in search of a deeper, more informed understanding of popular spiritualities, Top Secret has much to offer.

About the Author

Robert M. Price is Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute as well as the editor of The Journal of Higher Criticism. His books include Beyond Born Again, The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts: A Feminist-Critical Scrutiny, Deconstructing Jesus, and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Forthcoming titles are The Crisis of Biblical Authority, Jesus Christ Superstar: A Redactional Study of a Modern Gospel, The Da Vinci Controversy and The Amazing Colossal Apostle

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Listen to a telephone interview with enhanced graphics with Robert Price about his book “Top Secret”

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Local, Religion, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Sexual Selection at work!

Posted by Andy D. on July 8, 2008

Posted in Humor | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

We Are The People

Posted by Skeptigator on July 7, 2008

I just finished the book, We Are The People: Voices from the other side of American history. This book is a compilation of essays, excerpts, letters and oral histories as told by ordinary and extraordinary people. Have you ever wanted to hear first hand what it’s like to try and live on minimum wage, be a slave in America, organize a miner’s union in the 1920’s, be a hunted American Indian, work in an abortion clinic or hear what it’s like to be an American living in Palestine (let alone being a Palestinian). This is your book if even a fraction of these sound interesting.

The book organizes itself into 8 topics or sections with about 5-8 articles per section, they are:

  • Native Americans
  • Slavery
  • Peace
  • Women
  • Labor
  • Civil Rights
  • Poverty
  • Civil Liberties

These are stories told usually by people who actually lived or were living during many important times in our American history but their stories are not often told or heard anymore. They are certainly not taught in our history classes and are certainly not well known within the general American public.

Native Americans

With 9 articles this section covers a number of issues regarding America’s history with Native Americans. You can find a transcript of Chief Sharitarish’s speech to President Monroe in 1822, an 1850 law “for the government and protection of Indians” which essentially guaranteed nothing but slavery, the congressional testimony of John S. Smith regarding the Sand Creek Massacre of 450 Cheyenne (mostly women and children, in case you were wondering), and perhaps the most moving was the excerpt of Luther Standing Bear’s Land of the Spotted Eagle in which he retells being shipped off to an “Indian School“.

Slavery

With as much as slavery is covered in American History classes you would think the story would have been told and that a section such as this would simply be a rehashing of the same old stories. You would be wrong and so was I. The first article as an excerpt from The Life of Olaudah Equiano an African boy who was kidnapped from his village by other African villagers where he was bought, sold and traded into slavery within Africa until he was finally sold to Europeans and made the infamous “Middle Passage” to America, from the article,

O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would mean should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.

In addition, are fugitive slave narratives, Frederick Douglass’ July 4th, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York and an excerpt from Booker T. Washington‘s Up From Slavery

Peace

Did you know that conscientious objectors were required as late as the Civil War to either “[furnish] a substitute [to go in your place] or payment of commutation money”? And that some of the pioneers in this field such as the Quaker Cyrus Pringle helped to break down this system.  You will also find Mark Twain’s diatribe against the Spanish-American War, My Country Right or Wrong. An interesting (and almost prophetic) article is the Feb. 12th, 2003 speech by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) in the run-up to Bush Jr’s War in Iraq. But perhaps one of the two most moving articles is a series of emails by American Rachel Corrie to her mother. Rachel Corrie was a volunteer in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. Her emails tell of an almost impossible situation that the Palestinians have to live in as bulldozers and Israeli police push the borders of Israel out to make way for more settlers. Rachel Corrie, 23,  was crushed to death by bulldozers on March 16th, 2003 while attempting to stop more Palestinian homes from being destroyed. The modern Jews act an awful lot like the Jews of antiquity, but then again they are Chosen People so who am I to argue.

Women

The section on women contains essays and speeches from some of the big hitters in the women’s rights movement, Sarah Grimke, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan and Sallie Tisdale. Sally Tisdale’s essay, We Do Abortions Here, is the second of the two most moving articles of this book. Her essay details her life in an abortion clinic. She talks of the different kinds of women who come in to have abortions, so many with all the options in the world and so many without any but this one. So many women who she knows will be devastated the rest of their lives for the choice they are making and others who should be putting more thought into their choice especially after the 4th, 5th or 7th abortion. She is astounded at the almost total lack of education women have about their bodies, pregnancy and most critically birth control.

Labor

This was a tough chapter for me. I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with unions. I realize my problem with unions is the modern versions vs. the absolute critical role they played in providing fair wages and safe working conditions. Minimum wage laws, 40-hour work weeks and paid vacation and sick time are all benefits even rights that we enjoy today because of the blood, sweat and tears of many union organizers. You’ll find essays on the lack of commentary on social class in American classrooms, oral histories compiled by Studs Terkel, the Dearborn Massacre in which police shot and killed a young immigrant among others shot and wounded marching on the Ford plant in Dearborn, MI. The author Barbara Ehrenreich tries to live on minimum wage and Katherine Mieszkowski tells the story, Can My Mommy Have Her Paycheck, of Hewlett-Packard’s shift to a temporary work force and the impact that has on wages, benefits and getting your paycheck.

Civil Rights

Each of the articles retell the story of the struggle of black people for Civil Rights in America. Langston Hughes starts off with an essay decrying the shift in middle-class Black America to act white and why black artists try to “do” white art.  He starts his article with the following,

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want to write like a white poet”; meaning subconsciously, “I would like be a white poet”; meaning behind that, “I would like to be white.”

His essay then focuses more or less on this theme. I’m not sure I agree with his characterization of the young poets comment. How about,

… the young Negro poet said to me once, “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want my poetry to be evaluated, rejected or accepted based on it’s beauty, not on the color of my skin”.

My interpretation requires one step to the heart of the matter whereas Lanston Hughes has to go through three steps to get to his interpretation. It just seems like a bit of stretch. But then again he’s Langston Hughes and I’m not 😉

Many of the articles are from some prominent civil rights figures, such as, Bayard Rustin and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Others are told from the perspective of just ordinary folk, coming of age in the 50’s and 60’s and their experiences as they watched a nation change around them.

Poverty

This section has more oral histories compiled by Studs Terkel during the Great Depression and the lives that people led just to feed themselves and how they had to live. John Steinbeck, author of Grapes of Wrath, offers his commentary on migrant workers during the Great Depression and James Agee follows the stories of three sharecroppers during the 1940’s. Barbara Ehrenreich is back with another excerpt from Nickel and Dimed and James Newfield tells us How the Other Half Still Lives both offer commentary on the current state of poverty in America.

Civil Liberties

This is section is bit more eclectic and includes transcripts of testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Margaret Chase Smith’s Declaration of Conscience a response to the growing power of Joseph McCarthy. The final three essays speak to more recent efforts by the global justice movement, the current Bush administration’s outrageous moves to remove our constitutionally-protected rights and the current State of our rights in a post 9/11, Patriot Act Union.

There is so much I have not covered in this book but it is well worth the read. If anything it gives you a different perspective and offers a different voice on American history.

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