Americans, I have some bad news for you…

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From Club Orlov

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

That’s it: We’ve officially lost all human interaction. Apple has won. I give up…

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From The Guardian

What happens when you can reach out and digitally touch someone? We forget how to interact face-to-face, that’s what… When we phone home, we lose out on important human cues … yes, even if we’re using FaceTime…

Apple didn’t simply shrink the iPhone and strap it on your wrist, Tim Cook insisted. “Because you wear it, we invented new, intimate ways to connect and communicate.”

Intimate?

The Apple Watch won’t just vibrate when you choose someone to text; you can reach out and vibrate that person’s watch from across the globe. “We thought hard on how to enable a new form of communication,” Apple’s Kevin Lynch said onstage earlier this month. “We’ve created something called digital touch.”

Iran executes man for heresy…

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Mohsen Amir-Aslani convicted of insulting prophet Jonah and making ‘innovations in religion’ through interpretations of Qur’an…

A 37-year-old man has been executed in Iran after being found guilty of heresy and insulting prophet Jonah, according to human rights activists.

Mohsen Amir-Aslani was arrested nine years ago for his activities which the authorities deemed were heretical. He was engaged in psychotherapy but also led sessions reading and reciting the Qur’an and providing his own interpretations of the Islamic holy book, his family said.

Amir-Aslani was hanged last week for making “innovations in the religion” and “spreading corruption on earth”, but human rights activists said he was a prisoner of conscience who was put to death because of his religious beliefs. He had interpreted Jonah’s story in the Qur’an as a symbolic tale.

YES on Measure S: Water and Fracking Initiative Establishing a Mendocino Community Bill of Rights…

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From Jamie Lee

In less than six weeks, Mendocino County has a chance to make significant history.

This November 4th, if passed into ordinance, Measure S will become the first county in California, and only the 2nd county in the country, to establish a  Community Bill of Rights asserting our inherent right to clean water through banning the banning of any and all fracking activities in the county. (You can read about Measure S at Yesons.me.)

For over a decade now there has been a fast growing grass roots movement across the country where counties, communities and cities are exercising their rights to local self-governance.  Over 160 communities across the United States have now passed local ordinances declaring their rights. The ordinances have included the banning of fracking, disallowing toxic corporate sludge waste dumping on private and community lands, halting continued toxification of local ecosystems and water streams and denying corporations the same rights as human beings, also known as corporate personhood.

4 ways Amazon’s ruthless practices are crushing local economies…

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From Jim Hightower
Salon

Jeff Bezos has forged an empire by exploiting low-wage workers and  Even by the anything-goes ethical code of the corporate jungle, Amazon.com’s alpha male, Jeff Bezos, is considered a ruthless predator by businesses that deal with him. As overlord of Amazon, by far the largest online marketer in the world (with more sales than the next nine US online retailers combined), Bezos has the monopoly power to stalk, weaken, and even kill off retail competitors—going after such giants as Barnes & Noble and Walmart and draining the lifeblood from hundreds of smaller Main Street shops. He also goes for the throats of both large and small businesses that supply the millions of products his online behemoth sells. They’re lured into Amazon by its unparalleled database of some 200 million customers, but once in, they face unrelenting pressure to lower what they charge Amazon for their products, compelled by the company to give it much better deals than other retailers can extract.

Lest you think predator is too harsh a term, consider the metaphor Bezos himself chose when explaining how to get small book publishers to cough up deep discounts as the price for getting their titles listed on the Amazon website. As related by Businessweek reporter Brad Stone, Bezos
 instructed his negotiators to stalk them “the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Bezos’ PR machine tried to claim this sneering comment was just a little “Jeff joke,” but they couldn’t laugh it off, for a unit dubbed the “Gazelle Project” had
 actually been set up inside Amazon.

We’ll Become ISIS…

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From James Howard Kunstler

I played fiddle at a small-town, country dance last night with several other musicians and it was a merry enough time because that kind of self-made music has the power to fortify spirits. About half the dancers were over 40 and the rest were teenage girls. The absence of young men was conspicuous. Toward the end of the evening, it was just girls dancing with girls. A wonderful and fundamental tension was not present in the room.

The young men are out there somewhere in the country towns, but this society increasingly has no use or no place for them, except in the army. There is absolutely no public conversation about the near total devaluation of young men in the economic and social life of the USA, though there is near-hysterical triumphalism about the success of young women in every realm from sports to politics to business, and to go with that an equal amount of valorization for people who develop an ambiguous sexual identity.

There really is no local forum for public discussion in the flyover regions of the USA. The few remaining local newspapers are parodies of what newspapers once were, and the schools maintain a fog of sanctimony that penalizes thinking outside the bright-side box. Television and its step-child, the internet, offer only the worst temptations of hyper-sexual stimulation, artificial violence, and grandiose wealth-and-power fantasies. There aren’t even any taverns where people can gather for casual talk.

Liberals Giving Islam a Pass…

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From Atheist Revolution

What is it called when we routinely criticize one group of people for objectionable behavior while virtually ignoring the same behavior when committed by another group? Perhaps there is a more precise name for this sort of thing, but the one that most readily springs to mind for me is hypocrisy.

Yes, we usually think of hypocrisy as condemning someone else for doing what we ourselves are doing (e.g., “It’s okay when we do it!”). But condemning the behavior of one group while giving another a pass for doing the same thing – or even worse things – certainly strikes me as hypocritical. At the very least, it is the sort of thing we should seek to avoid.

Bill Maher (HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher) recently scolded liberals for giving Islam a pass on all sorts of human rights violations. I think he’s right that this is a problem, and it is one of a handful of things that has come to irk me about my fellow liberals. Yes, I am still a liberal. And no, that does not mean I have found it necessary to drink the kool-aid that prevents me from thinking critically about liberalism and its more problematic aspects. I suppose one could say that I’m a freethinker before I’m a liberal.

William Edelen: An Ultimate Role Model

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From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister

On Monday Sept 22, I went to the front door and picked up my LA TIMES, took it to the kitchen with my coffee, and gasped. A Huge OBIT was written for GERALD LARUE, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at USC, and one of my true “kindred spirits”, “role models” and friends.

He was 98 years old. An internationally respected scholar, a maverick, free thinker, humanist, and “Debunker of biblical stories” in the words of the LA TIMES. His books are treasures filled with the thousands of contradictions and errors in the bible… that the bible thumpers still comically claim is “without error” and “infallible”. It is very similar material to what I have been writing in my newspaper columns for 50 years, and what Joseph Campbell and other biblical scholars have been trying to teach the very gullible and naive public for years.

Our wonderful friendship started at a delightful and stimulating “book signing” event in that incredible book store on “Fashion Island” in Newport Beach, years ago. (Hope it is still there?) We both had written essays for a new book with the title of “THE BOOK YOUR CHURCH DOES NOT WANT YOU TO READ.” Essays included, not only present biblical and religious scholars, but also historical ones of monumental stature, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc.

How to Live: Lessons from Montaigne, Godfather of Blogging…

 Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Salvador Dalí, 1947.

From Brain Pickings

Don’t worry about death, pay attention, read a lot, give up control, embrace imperfection.

“Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” Karl De Schweinitz wrote in his 1924 guide to the art of living. But this is an art best understood not as a set of prescriptive techniques but, perSusan Sontag’s definition of art, a form of consciousness — which means an understanding that is constantly evolving.

In How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer(public library), British biographer and philosophy scholar Sarah Bakewell traces “how Montaigne has flowed through time via a sort of canal system of minds” and argues that some of the most prevalent hallmarks of our era — our compulsive immersion in various forms of lifestreaming, our incessant social sharing, our constant oscillation between introspection and extraversion as we observe our private experiences more closely than ever so we can record and frame them more perfectly in public — can be traced down to this one proto-blogger, the godfather of the essay as a genre:

Todd Walton: Bochy Dreams

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From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

Bruce Bochy, a pleasant slow moving man, is the longtime manager of the San Francisco Giants. A former catcher known for his gruffness rather than the poetry of his speech, Bruce seems much older than his fifty-nine years—his gray hair turning white and his reactions to exciting moments during games oddly delayed, as if he requires a few extra moments to come back into his body before responding to a great catch or a home run or a game-winning strikeout.

Though many pundits and fans find Bruce dull and often a batter too late in removing exhausted pitchers, he has won two World Series and been continuously employed as a major league manager for nineteen seasons. Because his after-game press conferences are invariably wooden and uninformative, few people are aware of Bruce’s two great talents: he is a master at instilling confidence in men who lack confidence, and his dreams frequently provide him with information he uses during games.

Only Bruce knows of this latter talent, for he has never revealed his baseball dreams to anyone, not even his beloved wife of thirty-five years or his best friend Dave Righetti, the Giants’ pitching coach.

For-Profit Insanity Is Killing Americans…

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From Thom Hartmann
TruthOut

Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working.

Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare.

Everywhere you look, there’s good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over.

If Jesus came back, he would never stop throwing up…

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From Bust

This Woman Is Battling a Mega-Church, One Tweet at a Time…

Mars Hill Church, a 15-location megachurch headed by Pastor Mark Driscoll (who infamously referred to women as “penis homes”) has, in the past few weeks, been facing a growing controversy over its power structure, bullying of attendees and staff, and Driscoll’s inflammatory online (and in-pulpit) statements regarding (among other things), the status of women within the church, and marriage. Attendance is way down; Mars Hill is firing staff and closing branches, and Driscoll is taking a six-week hiatus.

Hey, have you heard the one about Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch system slowly and publicly collapsing? The reasons have been covered by everyone from the New York Times to blogs devoted to ex-members sharing their experiences attending (any one of 13) Mars Hill locations.  

Christian Crock of the Week: Why Is God Hiding?

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From Southern Skeptic

If the Christian God exists, where the hell is he? The entire debate between Christians and atheists boils down to this one problem. If God exists, why is there no proof that he exists? I’m not talking about “logical proofs” that merely define God into existence, “scientific proofs” that make ad hoc assumptions, or “emotional proofs” that can easily beexplained by psychology. I’m talking about empirical evidence that all laymen can understand and all scientists can agree on (like the proof that gravity exists). But apparently God won’t allow that. He is everywhere, yet he chooses to remain invisible, intangible, and inaudible. A little suspicious, don’t you think?

I want to know why God can’t appear next to me as I write this–standing there with his long white beard, dressed in robes that shine like the sun–and say in a thunderous voice, “Here I am.” I just looked around the room. Nope, nothing.

Imagine how much better the world would be if God revealed himself to everyone in such a manner. All the fighting over which religion is true would end, criminals would be afraid to commit crimes, and when disasters occurred God could actually help people. So why doesn’t God reveal his existence?

The most common response is, “Because of free will.” The idea is that God can’t appear to everyone because then people would have no choice but to worship him. Christians hold this defense up like a shield, completely unaware that it’s as flimsy as a handkerchief. This apologetic fails for 4 reasons:

No God? No Problem…

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From LA TIMES

Sam Harris isn’t quite the atheist provocateur that Christopher Hitchens was nor the militant that Richard Dawkins is. But he is building his place in the pantheon of god-free thinkers book by book. His latest is “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.” As a California native, he grew up with the Golden State’s alternative ideas. His own ideas — among them, that morality and spirituality can have a secular, scientific foundation rather than a religious one — are rooted in his UCLA neuroscience degree and his years’-long studies of meditation in places such as Tibet and India, including a brief gig on the security team for the Dalai Lama.

You write that you want this book to “pluck the diamond from the esoteric dunghill of religion.” What is the diamond of spirituality?

Prayer for Gluten…

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From TheAVA

Heavenly Father, in your infinite goodness you created the earth and blessed us with its clear, abundant waters and fertile lands yielding plenteous harvests of fruits and vegetables and grains, some of which happen to contain gluten. We praise you, Lord, for creating gluten, an important yet humble source of protein enjoyed for centuries by the peoples of many nations, the great majority of whom didn’t even know it existed until recently. God, you sent gluten into this world as you sent your own Son, to save us, not to torment us with vague and possibly imaginary physical symptoms. So please help certain people to remember, gracious Lord, even as they shun and revile gluten, that it is still a creation of your own Almighty hand, and that, being God, you probably knew what you were doing when you created it. Enlighten those of us in your flock, O Lord, who go about slandering gluten with great authority and volume, even though they never heard of gluten until last year. Gently remind the fearmongering gluten slanderers to study Wikipedia — which you also created, Lord, so that we might come to know your wisdom more instantaneously — for they might be surprised to learn that gluten was discovered in the seventh century by Buddhist monks who used it as a substitute for meat, thus sparing from slaughter many of your beloved cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep, all of whom might be totally extinct by now were it not for gluten. Also help us to be mindful, O merciful God, of how gluten itself must feel — for who are we to say that gluten does not have feelings? (We imagine gluten is appalled, to put it mildly.) As you yourself opined in Romans 14:3, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” Gluten certainly takes no umbrage at the estimated one out of every 135 people who actually suffers from celiac disease or the euphemistically yet still hatefully named “gluten intolerance.” Gluten has been around long enough to know that you can’t please everyone. No, gluten has no problem with these people. Gluten will tell you who it has a problem with, Lord, and that’s the shameless opportunists who have turned “gluten-free” from a legitimate health mandate into a “lifestyle choice” for no reason other than their own personal gain, preying upon the fear and ignorance of the hitherto gluten-tolerant masses with websites such as Glutenista.com (“on a mission to Make Gluten-Free Fabulous “for everyone, everywhere”) and the sudden proliferation of such glossy publications as Gluten-Free Living, Simply Gluten-Free, and Living Without Magazine (a self-defeating title if ever we’ve heard one, as presumably the publishers do not want readers to live without the magazine itself). Gluten knows perfectly well that Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent,” but gluten has been silent for centuries, God, and guess what: it’s not working. Therefore, gracious Lord, gluten would like you to know that it has recently met with an attorney regarding a potential defamation claim. And gluten will tell you something else right now, Lord: it was here long before these gluten haters were born, and it will be here long after they’re gone. Not unlike yourself, O Lord, gluten is here to stay.
~~

Gene Logsdon: Auction Anguish

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I used to love to go to farm auctions. I always hoped to find a bargain that no one else recognized. There was nothing like spotting an old book that I knew was worth maybe $50, and then being able to buy it along with a box of ho-hum volumes, for a dollar. For awhile early in married life I even fantasized about making a living scouting out rare old books and selling them for a thousand percent profit. But lots of other people had the same idea, and rarely was I able to make any profit at all.  But it was fun trying.

Same thing with antiques at farm sales. I’d go to one hoping that no professional antique dealers would be there. It rarely happened. They always knew which of Grandmaw’s old dishes were worth twenty dollars and which were  worth twenty cents.

Zero Percent Water: Why The California Drought Is All Your Fault…

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From Medium

[...] The ten acres that holds the Wakefields’ house is the last scrap of a legacy of farming that started when Sharon’s family moved out from Oklahoma to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Jim introduces Sharon as “Dust Bowl Sharon,” and she smiles but gives Jim a playful glance like maybe he’s in trouble.

David and Sharon have been fighting for years to stay in business, have successfully made it through past droughts by abandoning land and shrinking their acreage. They describe what the land used to look like, the rows of cotton, green plants tufted white, the fields teeming with workers at harvest time.

Sharon shows me an old illustration from the Encyclopedia Britannica, a barnyard and farmhouse, crops in neat rows in the distance, a farmer harvesting wheat. A boy rides a brown horse. A woman in a white apron feeds the chickens.

“This was my dream since I was a girl,” she says. “This is all I ever wanted.”

They bought the land in 1976. They raised their kids here, made it a special place for the grandkids. At the edge of the yard sits a line of tractors. They’ve kept them all, dating back to a tractor Sharon’s grandfather once used, a tractor they take pride in saying still runs. Sharon says they planted every tree. A eucalyptus towers above us, and I begin to realize this land won’t just be sold, but all of this—the trees, the tractors, the house — might soon be gone.

We’ve circled the house and stand back in their little yard. I ask what they’ll do now. David steals a glance at Sharon. “When we go I’ll never look back up that drive again. It’ll just be too hard.”

Sharon says that when as kids they’d see a house and land being sold her father would say, “That’s someone’s broken dream.” She peers out beyond the green of her trees as the sun sets hard over the dusty, barren land. “This is our broken dream.”…

Full story here
~~

Everything You and I Think is Pretty Much Horseshit…

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From Godless Mom

It’s one thing to say you’re a skeptic. It’s another to understand fully that we need to be, because nothing in this world, not even your own memories, are as they seem. Our minds and our motivations and our behaviour can all be quite dark, no matter how sure you are that you’re a decent person. I read these two books during my prison binge reading phase, and they double-handedly changed the way I look at the entire human race. We are slaves to our synapses, the sum total of what we believe and belief, well… belief just has no basis in fact. That means, basically put, everything you and I think… is pretty much horseshit.

The two books I’m talking about are The Wrong Men by Stanley Cohen and Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind The Kitty Genovese And Barbara Kralik Murder Trials.

In light of reading Sam Harris’ new book, Waking Up, I was reminded of these two books because they were so brutally unsettling to me. Sam’s book talks about how little we know about human consciousness and asks the question, is what we know, really what we know?

If you supplement Sam’s book with these two books, you’ll answer that question, without hesitation, with ‘no’.

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