Archive for July, 2009

Kaboom! On Jupiter!

Breaking news: something has impacted on the planet Jupiter.

There isn’t any confirmation of what it is was yet but my money’s on a small asteroid, probably no bigger than a mile across.

Anyway, for anyone with a telescope, this site details when the spot is visible. All times are in UT so subtract 5 hours for Eastern Time and 8 hours for Pacific. I know I’ll be looking up. It’s times like this that I’m glad I have a relatively big ‘scope.


Declaration of Independence

Today is the 4th of July when we celebrate the day, 233 years ago, when we declared ourselves an independent nation and no longer under the tyranny of Great Britain.

To formalize this declaration, we drafted the Declaration of Independence which basically stated our justifications for leaving Britain. It’s a rather remarkable document and says a great deal about the philosophy of government. But unfortunately, most people don’t understand what it says. I think mostly because it’s written in 18th century English which uses a lot of obscure words and unusual syntax.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to translate the document into modern day English:

When one group of people decides they are going to break away from another group which they have usually been a part of, they better have some pretty good reasons to do so.

It is obvious to us that all people are equal. They are all born with certain rights that cannot be removed, some of which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In order to maintain these rights, we have governments, which derive their power from the people they govern. If a government ever screws up and stops protecting these rights, then the people are justified in replacing that government with a new one that will.

Of course, existing governments shouldn’t be replaced because a small bump in the road. We know that people would rather grin and bear some things than replace everything they know and are used to every time something goes wrong. But when a government has continually abused its power and caused its people to suffer, it is the right and the duty of the people to overturn that government and form a new one that will protect them in the future.

The colonies have been consistently abused as stated above, and so we’ve decided we need to create our own government. The king of Great Britain has repeatedly conspired to establish absolute rule of the states. Now, this is why we say this:

He has refused to pass laws which are needed for the public good.

He has denied local governors the right to pass laws that are immediately important, and when he allows them to pass laws, he delays them for further review, then never gets back to them.

He has refused to pass laws for some groups of people, unless they give up their right to represent themselves in government.

When he calls the legislature into session, the meeting places are always very difficult to get to, making the legislature members fatigued into submission.

He has dissolved legislatures that oppose him when he invades the rights of the people.

He has repeated refused, after dissolving a legislature, to let the people elect a new legislature. This has led to us being at risk from foreign invasion and internal anarchy.

He has made it difficult for us to increase our population by obstructing immigration and naturalization of foreigners, refusing to pass laws that would encourage such immigration, and making it more difficult for people to obtain land.

He has refused to establish an adequate justice system.

He has control of judges by threatening their job security and controlling their salaries.

He has hired a number of people to harass others and to reduce their standard of living.

He has kept a military force present, even in peacetime, without consulting our legislatures.

He has made the military above and unaccountable to the laws of the people.

He has subjected us to laws we do not agree with or have acknowledged, and passed by a legislature that is not representative of us.

For forcing us to house troops in our homes.

For protecting his troops by acquitting them of murder in fake trials.

For refusing to let us trade with other countries.

For forcing us to pay taxes without us voting on it.

For sentencing us for crimes without a fair trial.

For transporting people out of the countries to be tried for fake charges.

For establishing an absolute government in Quebec and annexing territory for it, as if to use it as an example for creating an absolute government in the colonies.

For dissolving our laws and charters, and fundamentally altering our forms of government.

For dissolving our legislatures and declaring that they have the power to legislate for us.

He has declared us out of his protection and waged war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is, as we speak, sending a large number of foreign mercenaries to destroy us in ways that are worse than what we’d see in the most barbarous ages, especially not from a king of a civilized nation.

He has drafted our people who are captured overseas to fight again their own country, execute their friends and family, or force them to kill themselves.

He has encouraged insurrections, and has bribed Native American tribes to attack frontier settlers.

We have tried to petition the king for each of these grievances, but in each case he has only continued to dominate and oppress us. He is not fit to be ruler of a free people.

We have also tried to reason with the citizens back in Britain, with which we still have family ties and friendships. We have told them that their legislature is passing laws against us. We have told them why we left and came here. We tried appeal to their sense of justice and fairness, and have tried to argue through that if the oppression continues, we will be cut off. They too have ignored our pleas for justice despite their close relation. We must then view them as enemies, unless there is peace.

Therefore, we the representatives of united states of America, declare that we should be completely free from Britain. We declare that we should have the power to declare war and peace, make alliances, establish commerce, and everything else a sovereign nation has the right to do. For the support of this declaration, we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our honor to each other.

Yay! An Atheism Documentary Worth Watching!

Finally, a documentary/TV program that is about religious skepticism and atheism that is intelligent and not (very) insulting or degrading towards religious people. I am talking about “The Atheism Tapes” by Jonathan Miller.

To be honest, I have been recently quite disappointed by documentaries that are about religious skepticism. The first was “The God Who Wasn’t There”, whose ads you’ve probably seen around teh interwebz. It’s got really great reviews, but I thought it was just sort of meandering and pointless. There’s not really an overall theme, and it just left me feeling that I hope religious people don’twatch it because it would give them the wrong impression. It just made me feel its about some guy exercising his personal grudge against religion and the people who tried to cram it into his head.

Next was “Religulous” with Bill Maher. This one was better, but still left me feeling a bit empty. Maher talks with religious people, apparently just trying to understand why people are religious, but doesn’t really come to his main point until like ten minutes before the end, which is that religions can be very harmful in that they instruct people to act in a certain way against creating a sustainable rational world, that is against working for a better world, because there’s no point. They’re going to be rewarded in a few decades anyway, why make this world better?

“The Atheism Tapes” really nails it by saying that religions are harmful and that there is a real problem with the world in that religions do exist. I also liked that this documentary program was much more philosophical and grappled with the dense issues like: How can evil exist if God exists? What really happens after death? Exactly how do religions inform the behavior of human beings? It lambastes the common idea that people use religion as a cover or justification  to do horrible things (which implies that these people would do these horrible things anyway even if religion wasn’t around), and correctly states that these people do these things because they sincerely and deeply believe certain wildly implausible things are true. People blow themselves up and fly planes into buildings, not because they really like doing it, but because they KNOW God will reward them for doing so.

I especially liked it because I identify myself as a philosopher first and foremost. I may be a physics-major, and I may design complex games about finance, but when it comes right down to it, I’m a philosopher, something actually quite uncommon among physicists and the scientific community in general. Scientists do science, which is founded on empiricism, the idea that you have to be able to gather data from the world in order to know anything about it. I, of course, agree with that, but most scientists completely shun any issue in which you cannot gather data because you can never know if your musings are correct or not.

“The Atheism Tapes” is also apparently a supplement to the BBC program “Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief” also by Johnathan Miller. The main program I can’t find on Amazon or Netflix, but I’ll keep looking. If I have to buy from the UK at least I have a Region 2 DVD player in my computer.