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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Atheists' Ten Commandments

I'm not an atheist, and as you can see from my recent post, Sick Bastards at the Taliban, I actually think religion may be a necessary evil.  We just need to make sure that everybody agrees on some universal principles.  And maybe that's the difference between me and atheists.  In that post, after remembering that my initial instinct -- Thou shalt not kill another human being -- was refuted by a 1989 Dilbert cartoon, I scaled back my ambitions to "Thou shalt not kill a child."

I now see that the atheists themselves have announced their own set of Ten Commandments, or, as they put it, Ten Non-Commandments.  These have resulted from a web-based contest put on by the authors of "Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart" (Lex Bayer and John Figdor).  The contest received about 2,800 entries from 18 countries and 27 U.S. states.  That's a pretty pathetic and probably non-representative sample, but I guess they have to compete with other atheists for attention.  Still, crowdsourcing this question has produced a pretty good list:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
9. There is no one right way to live.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
So that's a pretty good list for atheists and other enlightened people.  The problem, however, is that there are billions of people who are trapped in lives of permanent despair in this world.  The perfectly sensible point about the scientific method might not exactly resonate with a starving person in India, an ebola survivor in Africa, or muslim child orphaned by collateral damage from a U.S. drone attack.
For people like that, the thought of another, better world is a great and perhaps necessary comfort. And one can't exactly blame them if they end up succumbing to "religious" beliefs that consign their tormentors -- whether the direct killers of their parents or merely the rich and arrogant citizens of a distant nation run by corporate greed -- to hell or worse.

Don't get me wrong, I like what the atheists are trying to do.  If everyone in the world followed these principles, the world would be a much, much better place.  Parents should work hard to make sure that their children understand and absorb these principles.

(But I have a feeling that even in an atheist world, corporations would still run things, and subscribers to these commandments would be powerless to stop them, simply because the profit motive is so strong.)

My point is merely that it's unrealistic in this day and age, and in this state of the world, to hope to convert everybody to atheism.  Religion is too important.  That's why we need a "super-religion" that would be consistent with all existing world religions, and yet would make a few additional points.  Maybe some of the points could be those of the atheists.  But the biggest one for me is still:

Thou shalt not kill a child.

n.b.  I tried searching for my own blog using the search term "sick bastards Taliban."  Turns out that's not a good way to try to find this blog.


Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind Site -- displays all 2800-plus entries, and allows you to still add your own.  Many of the entries are very good -- just like the commandments -- and principles that one should attempt to instill in one's children.

CNN report on atheist ten commandments

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sick bastards at the Taliban

Today's news is that Taliban gunmen killed over 130 -- probably over 140 -- CHILDREN at a Pakistani school earlier today.   I'm not going to read the reports.  It's just too depressing.

I'm torn between wanting to stomp them out completely, and realizing that our misguided and miscarried efforts to stomp them out in the past are exactly what has allowed them to continue to attract young men capable of carrying out these atrocities.

It would be wonderful to find and torture to death the sickoes in the Taliban leadership who have twisted their religion to the point where their followers have come to believe that this is the sort of thing their god wants to see.  Unfortunately, last time we tried that, we tortured some of the wrong people to death.

Somewhere, somehow, hearts and minds are going to have to change.

If we have to have religions -- and maybe we do -- then let's get all of them to agree on at least one simple principle:

Thou shalt not kill another human being.

Anyone who violates that commandment will go to hell, no matter what faith he follows, and no matter what the excuse.

Yes, we'd have to give up the death penalty, we'd have to give up wars, and we'd have to give up drone strikes.  We might even have to give up some prime-time TV.  But maybe some good would come of all that.

Seriously, maybe we can start a campaign with a view toward getting the no-kill principle adopted into every single religion in the world, including atheism and secular humanism.

The counterargument is as follows:

So instead, let's just start small:

Thou shalt not kill a child.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What Ever Happened to "Kicksoccer" or "Kick Soccer"?

When I was growing up -- in the 1960s and 1970s -- we played a game called "kick soccer" or maybe "kicksoccer."  It was like baseball or softball, but instead of hitting a little ball with a bat, we kicked a bigger ball with our feet.  The best balls were the soccer-ball sized red rubber balls that only schools seemed to have in those days.  We knew about "soccer," but this was America, so we didn't play it.  Ever.  We understood that kicksoccer was something of a misnomer, but that's what we called it.  I wish I could remember my last game of kicksoccer.  It might have been when I was in the sixth grade.  And my first game was probably in the neighborhood when I was five or younger, before I even started kindergarten.

My point is that in the area where I grew up, EVERYBODY called the game "kicksoccer" or "kick soccer."  If adults heard us call it that, they never corrected us.

After sixth grade, I went to a different school, and don't remember ever playing -- or saying -- "kick soccer" again.  The game "kickball" never came up either.

Many years later, I encountered the game again, except that everybody called it "kickball."  If anyone had called it that back when I was growing up, they would have been thrown off the playground.  But that seems to be what everyone calls it now.  Yes, it's more accurate and less confusing, but it just doesn't sound as cool.

At the time, the word "sock" was more commonly used to mean "hit" than it is today, and maybe that was part of the attraction of the "kicksoccer" name.

And it seems that other people of my generation remember playing "kickball" and not "kicksoccer."

Wikipedia goes through the history of "kickball" here:  Apparently it was invented around 1917 by someone named Nicholas Seuss in Cincinnati, and it was originally called "kick balls."  And now I realize why I hate the name "kickball" or "kick ball" so much.  It's a bit better than "kick balls," but it still sounds pretty painful to me.

I wrote this post after doing extensive googling on "kick soccer" and not finding anything except soccer-related stuff.  Just as I was finishing, I decided to google "kicksoccer."  And thereby proved to myself that I'm not crazy.  In all of Google Books (millions upon millions of scanned books) there are two references to "kicksoccer" as another name for kickball.  One appears on p. 185 of  Barrie, Thorne, Gender play: girls and boys in school (1993).  The other appears on in the CAHPER Journal, volume 52, p. 7 (1986) (where CAHPER is "Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation."

But on the web itself, as far as I can tell, there is only one reference to "kicksoccer" as meaning kickball: somebody on July 25, 2011 is proposing kickball in the park for their meetup group and says "Remember kickball?  Or as my hood used to call it kicksoccer."

As of this writing, this blog is the fourth place on the whole internet -- including Google Books -- that uses the word "kick soccer" or "kicksoccer" to refer to what is now known as "kickball."

I wonder how the name change came about.  I'm sure they call it kickball at my old school now.  Maybe some school bureaucrat decided that kids would get confused by "kicksoccer" given the growing popularity of "soccer" in the U.S., and launched a campaign among adults to get the kids to stop calling it kicksoccer.  And then it spread from school to school, and the word "kicksoccer" was eradicated.  Who knows.  But whatever the reason, it was totally misguided (like I said, we knew about soccer, and weren't confused), and a good name for a great game has now been replaced by a bad one.

There is a bit of a resurgence of "kickball" going on right now among adults; I even played a game myself a few years ago, and have passed up a few other opportunities.  So far, I have just gone with the flow and kept my thoughts on the name "kicksoccer" to myself.  But next time I play, I'm going to work on getting the name changed.  It won't be easy, but if others who remember "kicksoccer" feel the same way, maybe we can work together to bring the name back.

So if you remember "kicksoccer," I'd love to hear from you -- just leave an anonymous comment giving the time period and location of that usage.  (I'm not doing that myself, sorry, just because I don't like putting personal information into this blog).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Michael Carson on Dead Bodies and Wasted Money

In a heart-felt piece in today's Salon, Army Veteran (?) Michael Carson, makes one key point:  Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were "optional' and thus not a good idea.  There doesn't seem to be any biographical information on this Michael Carson on Salon, or even on the Internet at large.  I can't even tell what rank he is.  Apparently, he is echoing the point made by Anand Gopal, in "No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes."

Carson's other best points for me were these:

"Before they [the Pentagon general and bureaucrats who have been running our wars] go any further, I have a suggestion for them: stop. Let go of your mouse. Put away all the power points that trace the different tribal leaders we should bomb and the ones that we should give money to, as well as the older power points that give money to the ones we are now bombing and bomb the ones we are now giving money to. Pause, take a deep breath, and please acknowledge that wars, whether won or lost, do not make societies smarter, but stupider."
"Once we invested a trillion dollars to build a nation through bombs, money and more bombs, we effectively undermined any pretense of understanding Afghanistan’s culture, history or nationality. What we knew or didn’t know about this or that tribal leader is ultimately unimportant. We gave up on knowledge when we went tried to bomb another world into our image, and no amount of after-action reviews, however nuanced and sophisticated, will take away from the fact that we have become stupider for having fought a war."

As I have said before, if the U.S. really were a better nation than all the rest -- if we really did have the agreed-upon moral authority that some of our leaders used to think we had -- then maybe -- just maybe -- it would have made sense for us to start wars with the hope of making parts of the world that we didn't understand better and safer places.  But we aren't -- as long as the world is full of widely differing cultures, religions, and ideas, there will be no "agreed-upon moral authority" and our optional wars will only stir resentment.  The return on all the wasted money and lives will be zilch, or less than zilch, as the resentment we stir up will make the world an even less stable and safe place than it was before we started.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tony Robbins WashingtonPost Puff Piece

More confirmation that I'm in the minority when it comes to Tony Robbins.  In Dec. 1's WashingtonPost, Karen Heller mostly gushes over the guy with an occasional snide aside, just to show she's really not as smitten with him as she sounds.

She's another one who thinks he looks like a movie star.  This time, it's Ben Affleck of all people.  All in all it's a bit unclear what Heller is trying to convey -- she mentions the Robbins "legend" a few times, and tells some of his stories, and repeats some of his name dropping.

Mostly, I guess the point is to let people know that Robbins has written a book about money.  This was the opportunist who, back when "believe and it will happen" was big, kept telling stories about people who believed they would win the lottery actually won it, more than once.  Back in one of the bull-bubble markets, he was out there hawking seminars telling people to ride it, but probably not telling them just when to get off.  Apparently he's worth about half a billion now -- spent $42 million on his last divorce.  Not really sure what a guy with that kind of bankroll and that kind of "financial advice" history can teach me managing my money.

My thoughts on his 2006 TED Talk and on Tony Robbins generally are here.  I still have no idea how much of that stuff about 9-11 he just made up.  It could have happened, so maybe it did.

I wrote this, and then it occurred to me to look at the comments.  I rarely do that, because Washington Post commenters are usually a mix of Democrats and Republicans who see politics in everything.  But here, they almost all seem to share my view.  Maybe it's only the people in the press that are scared to say bad things about him.

Actually, I'm starting to think it's a male-female divide thing, and it's a kind of metaphor for one significant aspect of male/female relationships generally.  It's the women who like him (Oprah, Arianna Huffington, Karen Heller, Susan Cain); men generally don't like him much, although some might want to be like him.  I have to admit that on some level, Tony Robbins is the ultimate "alpha male" -- he's big, he's rich, he's powerful, he's well connected, and he's the center of a lot of attention (especially at his seminars).  So it's probably small wonder that women seem to swoon over him, and men -- puny, pathetic, beta males by comparison -- tend to see him as a sleazeball, and wonder why the women can't see it.  The same thing plays itself out over and over again in the love lives of many men and women -- the women are attracted to the alphas, and the betas are left scratching their heads (until, of course, the women get a little bit older and come running back to the safety, security, and fidelity of the beta).  So I'm guessing that Tony Robbins's seminars are mostly populated by women who want to swoon over him, and men who want to be like him.  Probably why I've never been tempted to go.

The comments from the Washington Post (reproduced below) -- most of which seem to agree that Tony Robbins is a sleazeball -- are overwhelmingly by men:
12/2/2014 11:40 PM EST
When I think Tony Robbins I think Shallow Hal. Classic.
Point Break Hotel
12/2/2014 10:30 PM EST
Ah, if it works for you, so be it. I have friends who swear by it, clients who wanted me to take the profile they were so hooked into it. The answer to that was a polite deflection to other subjects. But, seriously, given the number of ways one can become absorbed in this life on so many different paths, I am not going to throw stones at Robbins.
12/2/2014 10:25 PM EST [Edited]
Is it ok to call him a con man and a grffter, essentially a white Al Sharpton?
12/2/2014 10:10 PM EST
If you've ever wondered what would happen if Ayn Rand were artificially inseminated by Werner Erhard, now you know!
12/2/2014 10:02 PM EST
"Robbins resembles a taller version of Ben Affleck." 
But I'm pretty sure he's never danced the horizontal tango with J-Lo!
12/2/2014 10:12 PM EST
I think he resembles a shorter version of "Jaws", the late Richard Kiel:
12/2/2014 10:01 PM EST
Has to be the most vain, superficial man on the planet.
12/2/2014 9:58 PM EST
"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."  
- H. L. Mencken
12/2/2014 9:57 PM EST
The Jimmy Swaggert of "Life Coaches". 
What a scam!
12/2/2014 10:26 PM EST
millions of people worldwide would beg to differ Steveo,
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 9:52 PM EST
He'll motivate the contents of your wallet into his.
12/2/2014 9:45 PM EST
Many dreamy-eyed, adoring women floated home from this sleazeball's seminars, motivated enough to drop their husbands and families.
12/2/2014 9:44 PM EST
Could this article be more of a puff piece? The closer I read it, the sicker I get: "Robbins resembles a taller version of Ben Affleck." Too bad the person who wrote this article doesn't resemble a journalist.
12/2/2014 9:44 PM EST
I don't think it's possible to write more of a puff piece unless Lena Dunham is in it.
12/2/2014 9:58 PM EST
The Post turns more and more into a PR vehicle for dubious celebrities. So much for responsible journalism.
12/2/2014 9:58 PM EST
The Post turns more and more into a PR vehicle for dubious celebrities. So much for responsible journalism.
12/2/2014 9:42 PM EST [Edited]
Sorry, but he's no philanthropist like Bill and Melissa Gates, who truly deserve a story on how they are helping people all over the world. Robbins is just making money off of people all over the world and giving nothing in return...unless you're rich and can pay for it.
12/2/2014 9:43 PM EST
Well, it looks like his publicist bought Karen Heller a really nice lunch, I guess that's giving back *something*.
12/2/2014 9:43 PM EST
Something for self-flattery isn't anything, as you know.
12/2/2014 9:41 PM EST
12/2/2014 9:32 PM EST
Tony Robbins is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
12/2/2014 9:37 PM EST
I might write that too ... if I were a hermit.
12/2/2014 9:38 PM EST
Haven't you seen "The Manchurian Candidate"?
12/2/2014 9:39 PM EST
Ha ha ... now I catch your drift.
12/2/2014 9:53 PM EST
12/2/2014 9:29 PM EST
It's only fitting that Tony Robbins was photographed at New York's Four Seasons Hotel, a property owned by an equally sketchy—but even MORE successful!— flim-flam man: 
12/2/2014 9:28 PM EST
What a sad testament to what The Washington Post has become. Ben Bradlee is rolling over in his grave.
12/2/2014 9:44 PM EST
We should be able to harness the energy of his spinning to generate power for most of the Eastern seaboard.
12/2/2014 9:21 PM EST
Tony Robbins: "Personal appearance is everything."
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 9:31 PM EST
Every fiber of his being oozes sleaze.
12/2/2014 9:14 PM EST
I bought Tony's tapes 20 years ago and thought they were great. I used his technique to get my best friend to quit smoking and he hasn't smoked since. He gave me self help advice and it worked. I did not go to any seminars and the tapes were under a hundred dollars and well worth it.
12/2/2014 8:54 PM EST
How empty would your life have to be for you to find this guy inspiring rather than revolting? I find money in this day and age to be whatever you want it to be, and what I want it to be is mine as much as possible.
12/2/2014 8:54 PM EST
Robbins was a notorious scammer and an anti-gay bigot as well. I knew him when he was launching his "fire walks" in the Eighties. But, then again, maybe he's become respectable...
12/2/2014 8:32 PM EST [Edited]
hahaha, what a joke. Robbins is a snake oil salesman. If you don't believe me go and waste $16 on one of his books and read about how he plans to "motivate" you. 
Bezos and Robbins must be friends. I guess this starts to answer the question of what the post is going to be like with its new corporate ownership.
Fast Eddie61
12/2/2014 8:38 PM EST
"Bezos and Robbins must be friends. I guess this starts to answer the question of what the post is going to be like with its new corporate ownership." 
Dunno about that - this wasn't exactly a fawning article. More a hatchet job, as someone else said.
12/2/2014 8:39 PM EST
Either way, the Post should not be printing it.
12/2/2014 8:28 PM EST
Best film role, Shallow Hal.
12/2/2014 8:32 PM EST
"Man, look at those mitts! lt's like grabbing a bunch of bananas."
12/2/2014 8:20 PM EST
I wonder if Robbins isn't a good friend of Jeff Bozos.
12/2/2014 8:27 PM EST
Good question. There both very successful, so I'm guessing they've crossed paths.
12/2/2014 9:03 PM EST
One thing both men can probably do, which you seem unable, is to appropriately use the contraction of 'they are'.
12/2/2014 8:19 PM EST
Tony Robbins is a flim flam artist, con man, Elmer Gantry like American icon.... Others?
Fast Eddie61
12/2/2014 8:07 PM EST
How can people fall for this guy? Riddle me that. He has huckster written all over him. 
"There's a sucker..."
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 8:10 PM EST [Edited]
If I was stranded on a deserted island with him, I'd sleep with one eye open.
12/2/2014 8:33 PM EST
I've seen the guy on an infomercial or two over the years. Never read one of his books, never watched one of his videos, nor have I attended one of his lectures. But from what I've heard, he's a motivator (and a darned good one) who has helped a lot of people succeed. That he's profited from it shouldn't bring him scorn. What exactly is your problem with him?
Fast Eddie61
12/2/2014 8:37 PM EST
I don't have any problem at all - if people are dumb enough to give him millions of dollars, more power to him.
12/2/2014 8:41 PM EST [Edited]
Good to hear, Eddie. Calling people "dumb" because they find some value in his service and actually better their lives is a problem...with you.
View More Replies
Fast Eddie61
12/2/2014 8:51 PM EST [Edited]
You're right - I shouldn't have used the word "dumb." It was rude.  
But I stand by my belief that this guy is a huckster and a charlatan. People like him have existed down through the ages. Many people have lost lots of money by giving it to Tony Robbins and his ilk.  
People like Robbins convince others that they have some answers or wisdom that others are not privy to - and people fall for it. 
Take a look at his video - would you buy a used car from this man?
Fast Eddie61
12/2/2014 8:00 PM EST
“It’s about impact and it’s all about love for me. Quite frankly, I’m a love bug.”  
Ask his first wife about that.
12/2/2014 7:57 PM EST
Tony Robbins big thing was motivating people in the sales profession. Of course the whole profession has gone downhill in a low demand/deflationary environment. Companies today don't want self-confident salespeople. They find them annoying/threatening. They want nice people who don't rock the boat. 
As far as giving financial advice - Robbins is really out of his league - running east, looking for a sunset.  
12/2/2014 9:04 PM EST
Excellent point - with the internet and equitable access to information to make buy decisions the "hard sell" and those who embody it - Robbins - looks like a dated symbol of the pre-recession era. Still he somehow finds an audience.
12/2/2014 7:41 PM EST
How does he feel about "charlatan"? 
12/2/2014 7:50 PM EST
At every one of his "seminars" they push people to buy more stuff, more CDs more books, more meetings, firewalks. Reminiscent of EST?
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 7:34 PM EST [Edited]
I just thought of him as a sociopathic manipulator of people as I do all motivational speakers. They will say or do anything for money, shameless con men nothing more. There's one born every minute who will pay others to say what they want to hear, sad really.
12/2/2014 7:29 PM EST
Sell them a ticket to the exit.

12/2/2014 1:22 AM EST
Not my cuppa tea. Tony Robbins has some interesting ideas but its all about finding happiness in things like money and stuff and hyperactivity. Life can be greatly satisfying by just sitting and simply paying attention to it. Stop and look around. There is nothing to accomplish or get. No goals -- just be. I have no gurus, but if I had to name any they would be the likes of Siddhartha, Lao Tzu, Marcus Aurelius, the late Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle.
12/2/2014 8:36 PM EST
I suspect the same thing was said about Bill Gates many moons ago. Just wondering: With all that Gates is giving back now, do you feel the same about him? How do you know Robbins won't do the same?
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 8:47 PM EST
Please don't put a smart legitimate guy and a con man in the same boat.
12/2/2014 10:18 PM EST
Well, his software sucks, if that's any grounds for comparison.
12/2/2014 12:51 AM EST
OK, I'll ask: did he pay the Post upfront for this ridiculous article? Is this what the Bezos era has wrought: cheesecake pieces on infomercial sleazebags?
12/2/2014 7:52 PM EST
You didn't get it, crane5. This is a hatchet job.
12/2/2014 8:00 PM EST
The future of journalism seems to be publicist generated articles. I don't know if this paper does it, but many online publications take money from publicists for articles.
12/2/2014 8:06 PM EST
"but many online publications..."
12/1/2014 9:05 PM EST
I spent a weekend in LA with Tony, did the fire walk, the whole nine yards. Worth every minute, every dollar.
12/2/2014 7:49 PM EST
I guess one can say you are happy to have contributed to his billion dollar fortune...
Jimbo Squad
12/2/2014 8:11 PM EST [Edited]
How much did the whole experience set you back or does he do it just for the joy of helping people.