My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is Paying for Indulgences Wrong?

I am the first to admit that I am not Martin Luther. I can say this with all certainty because I am in no way religious and because I am not sure that paying for some modern-day indulgences is wrong. As we all work to deal with things like global warming and fair trade, certain moral negotiations are going to have to be made and simply paying our share may be the most inclusive solution.

A simple case in point is air travel. As of right now, there is no practical alternative to flight, but flying spews lots of CO2 into the atmosphere. To try and make up for the environmental damage, a growing number of travelers purchase carbon offsets, which goes towards worthwhile things like reforestation and alternative energy projects. It’s the 21st-century way of paying indulgences and it helps people travel with clearer consciences, but I’m not sure that we are dealing with the underlying issue. Instead, we are doing exactly what Martin Luther had a problem with: buying our way out of serious moral obligations or personal sin.

According to the Catholic Church there are two different types of sins: A mortal sin and a venial sin. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” ( Or in simpler terms, a mortal sin is one that was done with the knowledge of why it was wrong and a venial sin is one that was done without.

As you can imagine, the punishment for a premeditated sin is worse than one committed without full knowledge of the offense. Even once the sin has been paid the sinner still must "strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the 'old man' and to put on the 'new man’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1473).

Which brings us back to purchasing carbon offsets to make up for the environmental damage of flying and other modern-day indulgences. If you have to keep repurchasing the same indulgence, are you really sorry for what you are doing? (Surely there are better paths that have a more immediate and specific impact) So our purchasing of indulgences are doing nothing more than justifying our premeditated behavior and delaying the choices that we will eventually have to make.

Which again brings us back to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Luther did not deny the Pope’s right to grant pardons for penance imposed by the Catholic Church; he made it clear that preachers who claimed indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation was wrong. And while the Council of Trent did away with the sale of the types of indulgences that sparked his door defacing act, the sale of indulgences for certain sins still remains in the Catholic Church to this day.

So is this simply a matter of something is better than nothing? Is it a deliverance from our wrongs because the alternative is individually unrealistic? A collective shrug and a hope that we’re doing a little, even if it is just a very little? The dance of the gray area between the lines of black and white? Does anyone actually feel absolved? Or do we all just wish that someone else would come up with a solution that we can all get behind? You know, someone who doesn’t have a plane to catch…

Over the next few years the number things like offsets and other modern indulgences will substantially increase, with some being voluntary and some being mandatory. Their money will go to important, needed things that will help work towards solutions to fix the underlying problem. My concern, as with Luther’s, is that we may be granting people moral salvation instead of actually asking people to take an active role to fix the problems that they helped caused.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Give it a Rest Already

For the sanity of humanity, I would like to clear up a couple things for those of you out there who think that everything that is happening right now, this very second, while you are wasting time reading this, is important:

These are not the “End Times”

Things are not any worse or better than they have ever been

The newest generation is no worse than yours

Each political party will get an equal chance to harm the country in time

Money and time have always been in short supply

Nothing powerful enough to create everything would ever care what you believe in

And lastly, none of this shit is new. Anyone telling you differently is selling something.

So please, for the love of all that is covered in chocolate, give it a fucking rest and stop taking yourself so damn seriously.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Entry for February 26, 2009

Is it just me, or do you want to run into people wearing camouflage just so you can say, “Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there!”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Peacock has Landed

In The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, the author Neil Strauss (Styles) gives the word Peacocking the following definition: Peacock – verb: to dress in loud clothing or with flashy accoutrements in order to get attention from women. Peacocking items include bright shiny shirts, light-up jewelry, feather boas, colorful cowboy hats, or anything else that makes one stand out in a crowd. Origin: Mystery.

Mystery is a pick-up artist and part of the seduction community. In one of their adventures Styles describes Mystery as being “dressed in a top hat, flight goggles, six-inch platform boots, black latex pants, and a black T-shirt with a scrolling red digital sign that said "Mystery" on it.” Sure you may laugh, but that same guy ended up with his own VH1 reality television series The Pick-up Artist, now in its second season. His thought behind the theory rests in the belief that, in order to attract the most desirable female of the species, it's necessary to stand out in a flashy and colorful way.

His concept, now over a decade old, seems to have grown into the national dress code. So much so that, over the last year or so, I’ve complained about everything from gaudy clothing, to being an unpaid billboard, and even the ridiculous posturing-fashions that so many teens seem unable to resist. That being said, I have come to this conclusion because the style has reached its apex, crossed into the absurd, and will hopefully be soon laid to rest because of flagrant overuse. Moreover, this shift will affect more than just clothing. It represents a general cultural shift from one norm: peacocking for status, to the new norm: understatement for shown awareness – and I couldn’t be happier.

Bring on people trying to outdo each other for how subtle, subdued, or conscience they are by blending into the background. Sure it’s along the line of making something that is good for us overly trendy, but at least I’ll be able to get a drink at the pub without laughing so hard at someone’s clothing that I shoot Guinness out of my nose.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin Day - February 12

Fossils Reveal Truth About Darwin's Theory
By Robin Lloyd, LiveScience Senior Editor

With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin this week, people around the world are celebrating his role as the father of evolutionary theory. Events and press releases are geared, in part, to combat false claims made by some who would discredit the theory.

One frequently cited "hole" in the theory: Creationists claim there are no transitional fossils, aka missing links. Biologists and paleontologists, among others, know this claim is false.

As key evidence for evolution and species' gradual change over time, transitional creatures should resemble intermediate species, having skeletal and other body features in common with two distinct groups of animals, such as reptiles and mammals, or fish and amphibians.

These animals sound wild, but the fossil record - which is far from complete - is full of them nonetheless, as documented by Occidental College geologist Donald Prothero in his book "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters" (Columbia University Press, 2007). Prothero discussed those fossils last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, along with transitional fossils that were announced since the book was published, including the "fishibian" and the "frogamander."

At least hundreds, possibly thousands, of transitional fossils have been found so far by researchers. The exact count is unclear because some lineages of organisms are continuously evolving.

Here is a short list of transitional fossils documented by Prothero and that add to the mountain of evidence for Charles Darwin's theory. A lot of us relate most to fossils of life closely related to humans, so the list focuses on mammals and other vertebrates, including dinosaurs.

Mammals, including us

* It is now clear that the evolutionary tree for early and modern humans looks more like a bush than the line represented in cartoons. All the hominid fossils found to date form a complex nexus of specimens, Prothero says, but Sahelanthropus tchadensis, found in 2001 and 2002, threw everyone for a loop because it walked upright 7 million years ago on two feet but is quite chimp-like in its skull size, teeth, brow ridges and face. It could be a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, but many paleoanthropologists will remain unsure until more fossils are found. Previously, the earliest ancestor of our Homo genus found in the fossil record dated back 6 million years.

* -Most fossil giraffes have short necks and today's have long necks, but anatomist Nikos Solounias of the New York Institute of Technology's New York College of Osteopathic Medicine is preparing a description of a giraffe fossil, Bohlinia, with a neck that is intermediate in length.

* Manatees, also called sea cows, are marine mammals that have flippers and a down-turned snout for grazing in warm shallow waters. In 2001, scientists discovered the fossil of a "walking manatee," Pezosiren portelli, which had feet rather than flippers and walked on land during the Eocene epoch (54.8 million years ago to 33.7 million years ago) in what is now Jamaica. Along with skull features like manatees (such as horizontal tooth replacement, like a conveyor belt), it also had heavy ribs for ballast, showing that it also had an aquatic lifestyle, like hippos.

* Scientists know that mastodons, mammoths and elephants all share a common ancestor, but it gets hard to tell apart some of the earliest members of this group, called proboscideans, going back to fossils from the Oligocene epoch (33.7 million years ago to 23.8 million years ago). The primitive members of this group can be traced back to what Prothero calls "the ultimate transitional fossil," Moeritherium, from the late Eocene of Egypt. It looked more like a small hippo than an elephant and probably lacked a long trunk, but it had short upper and lower tusks, the teeth of a primitive mastodon and ear features found only in other proboscideans.

* The Dimetrodon was a big predatory reptile with a tail and a large sail or fin-back. It is often mistaken for a dinosaur, but it's actually part of our mammalian lineage and more closely related to mammals than reptiles, which is seen in its specialized teeth for stabbing meat and skull features that only mammals and their ancestors had. It probably moved around like a lizard and had a jawbone made of multiple bones, like a reptile.

Dinosaurs and birds

* The classic fossil of Archaeopteryx, sometimes called the first bird, has a wishbone (fully fused clavicle) which is only found in modern birds and some dinosaurs. But it also shows impressions from feathers on its body, as seen on many of the theropod dinosaurs from which it evolved. Its body, capable of flight or gliding, also had many of dinosaur features - teeth (no birds alive today have teeth), a long bony tail (tails on modern birds are entirely feathers, not bony), long hind legs and toes, and a specialized hand with long bony fingers (unlike modern bird wings in which the fingers are fused into a single element), Prothero said.

* Sinornis was a bird that also has long bony fingers and teeth, like those seen in dinosaurs and not seen in modern birds.

* Yinlong is a small bipedal dinosaur which shares features with two groups of dinosaurs known to many kids - ceratopsians, the beaked dinosaurs like Triceratops, and pachycephalosaurs, known for having a thick dome of bone in their skulls protecting their brains. Yinlong has the thick rostral bone that is otherwise unique to ceratopsians dinosaurs, and the thick skull roof found in the pachycephalosaurs.

* Anchisaurus is a primitive sauropod dinosaur that has a lot of lizard-like features. It was only 8 feet long (the classic sauropods later on could be more than 100-feet long), had a short neck (sauropods are known for their long necks, while lizards are not), and delicate limbs and feet, unlike dinosaurs. Its spine was like that of a sauropod. The early sauropods were bipedal, while the latter were stood on all fours. Anchisaurus was probably capable of both stances, Prothero wrote.

Fish, frogs, turtles

* Tiktaalik, aka the fishibian or the fishapod, is a large scaled fish that shows a perfect transition between fins and feet, aquatic and land animals. It had fish-like scales, as well as fish-like fin rays and jaw and mouth elements, but it had a shortened skull roof and mobile neck to catch prey, an ear that could hear in both land and water, and a wrist joint that is like those seen in land animals.

* Last year, scientists announced the discovery of Gerobatrachus hottorni, aka the frogamander. Technically, it's a toothed amphibian, but it shows the common origins of frogs and salamanders, scientists say, with a wide skull and large ear drum (like frogs) and two fused ankle bones as seen in salamanders.

* A creature on the way to becoming a turtle, Odontochelys semistestacea, swam around in China's coastal waters 200 million years ago. It had a belly shell but its back was basically bare of armor. Odontochelys had an elongated, pointed snout. Most modern turtles have short snouts. In addition, the roof of its mouth, along with the upper and lower jaws, was equipped with teeth, which the researchers said is a primitive feature for turtles whose mugs are now tipped with beaks but contain no teeth.