How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale…


From Tom Dispatch

40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?

If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly — and it won’t be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.

The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war.  We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.

Occupy Wall Street’s plan to beat consumer debt has quietly become a success…


From Business Insider

The Occupy movement is still making a huge difference in thousands of lives.

The group’s Rolling Jubilee “Strike Debt” initiative has quietly forgiven millions in medical and student loans since 2012 after buying the debt on the secondary market.

Sixteen-thousand people have been relieved of nearly $32 million in debt, according to the effort’s website. The group has achieved this success despite raising just over $700,000.

Rolling Jubilee buys debt on the secondary market for what amounts to pennies on the dollar and, instead of initiating a debt collection process, send people a letter informing them the bill is no longer hanging over their heads.

Nearly $4 million in private student loans have been forgiven at a cost of about $100,000, the group announced last year. The students all came from the for-profit Everest College, part of Corinthian Colleges, which Rolling Jubilee called “predatory.”

Why I am pro-Abortion, not Just Pro-Choice…


From Valerie Tarico

Recently, the Daily Kos published an article titled, I Am Pro-Choice, Not Pro-Abortion. “Has anyone ever truly been pro-abortion?” one commenter asked.

Uh. Yes. Me. That would be me.

I am pro-abortion like I’m pro-knee-replacement and pro-chemotherapy and pro-cataract surgery. As the last protection against ill-conceived childbearing when all else fails, abortion is part of a set of tools that help women and men to form the families of their choosing. I believe that abortion care is a positive social good. And I suspect that a lot of other people secretly believe the same thing. And I think it’s time we said so.

Note: As an aside, I’m also pro-choice. Choice is about who gets to make the decision. The question of whether and when we bring a new life into the world is, to my mind, one of the most important decisions a person can make. It is too big a decision for us to make for each other, and especially for perfect strangers.

WILLIAM EDELEN: Jesus Was a Great Humanist

The Contrary Minister

The fact that Jesus was one of civilization’s greatest humanists must be like a burr under the saddle blanket for those who spend mindless hours blabbing about the “evils” of humanism.

In religious humanism, people are the first and primary consideration. People are more important than authoritarian, dogmatic, brittle, religious laws, creeds, rules, theologies, beliefs and man-made doctrines. In a very blunt and direct attack on such absurdities, Jesus placed humans front and foremost.

Nothing so infuriated him as to see religious doctrine become more important than people. It was against the religious law to feed or heal a person on the Sabbath. With scathing words.Jesus let them know that “the sabbath was made for people… people were NOT made for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Religious laws and institutions are not sacred. Creeds are not sacred. Theological dogma is not sacred. Man-made doctrines are not sacred. Jesus attacked authoritarian religion at every turn, replacing it with a humanitarian, humanistic religion.

Laughing at religion is exactly what the world needs…


From Salon

We should thank Bill Maher for taking a necessary battle to the faithful…

No matter what anyone says, religion is a deeply, if darkly, hilarious topic, and the sundry tomes of the sacred canon read more like joke books than anything else, albeit sick joke books.  How can we, in the 21st century, having mapped (and even edited) the human genome, engineered pluripotent stem cells, and discovered the Higgs Boson, be expected to revere the dusty old Bible, for example, with its quarreling goatherds and idolatrous tribesmen, and its golden calves and talking snakes, to say nothing of its revenge-porn (against unbelievers) finale?  How can we not laugh aloud when Genesis declares that Almighty God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, yet had to pilfer a rib from Adam to produce Eve?  What are we to make of Numbers 22:28-30, wherein the Lord intervenes, not to part the sea or still the sun, but to set Balaam’s donkey a-jabbering?  How are we supposed to accept Jesus as an up-to-snuff savior when, in Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14, he loses his temper and cusses out a fig tree, condemning it to death, for not bearing fruit out of season?  Any second-grade science-class student would have known better, and possibly even exercised more self-control.

“Properly read,” declared the science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, “the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”  He was right.  The same may be said of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which the late, dearly missed Christopher Hitchens called “not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require.”

The proper response to religion, riddled as it is with absurdities, is, thus, laughter, either of the belly-slapping, table-pounding kind or the pitying, head-shaking sort.  Laughter, but also outrage.  After all, those who take such absurdities as manifestations of the Godhead have, especially since the Reagan years, hogged the moral high ground and commandeered American politics, polluting public discourse with their reactionary cant and halting progress in reproductive rights, science (think the Bush-era ban on stem cell research) and education (to wit: stubborn attempts to have oxymoronic “Intelligent Design” rubbish taught in schools).  Look abroad, and the panorama of savagery religion must answer for curdles the blood.  No rationalist could contemplate all this entirely unnecessary faith-driven regress and backsliding with anything but anger, tempered with despair.  If we want to do true and lasting good in this world, we are morally obligated to fight faith in the open, and root it out from every nook and cranny in which it hides.

Atheist Activist Whack-a-Mole…


From Atheist Revolution

You know how the Whack-A-Mole game works. You stand there in front of the game waiting on the moles to pop up. You don’t know exactly when or where they will appear, but you know they will appear. And when you whack one, others will pop up momentarily. There is something about this that I find a fitting metaphor for much of atheist activism, particularly the sort that focuses on church-state violations.

Relatively few atheists go around looking for trouble. We do not generally go door-to-door seeking to deconvert religious believers. We do not usually insert our atheistic views into conversations where they do not belong. We do not typically introduce ourselves to strangers by announcing that we are atheists and that that somehow makes us morally superior to theists. In fact, if it wasn’t for the inevitable church-state violations popping up like moles in the game, many of us would not even think of ourselves as atheists much of the time. It wouldn’t be relevant to do so.

Many atheists are like someone standing in front of a Whack-A-Mole game in the sense that we are merely reacting to church-state violations. If they were to cease, we’d behave much like the person playing the game when the time expires and no more moles appear. We’d just walk away. What keeps us there whacking away is that the church-state violations never seem to end.

TODD WALTON: Afraid Of Silence

SilenceDahlia photo by Marcia Sloane

Under The Table Books

“Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.” Jean Arp

I pruned trees for a woman in Berkeley who always had her television on. Loud. She would invite me in after I was done with my work, serve me lemonade, and write me a check while soap opera actors on her gigantic television screen emoted and spoke to each other as no humans have ever spoken to each other except in soap operas and bad plays.

“You make my garden look so nice!” the woman shouted over the projections of people talking on her gigantic television screen. “Tamed the wild jungle!”

The third year I pruned her trees, I felt I knew her well enough to ask if she wouldn’t mind turning down the volume on her television while we visited. She reddened and said, “Don’t tell me you’re one of those anti-television people.”

“I’m hard of hearing,” I lied, “and it’s easier for me to visit with you without the television so loud.”

She turned down the television and said, “Truth is I don’t even notice it.”

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” Francis Bacon

WILL PARRISH: Mendocino Redwood Company — Profiting in the Name of ‘Restoration’



On Tuesday, April 21st the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors was set to consider regulations, for the first time, on Mendocino Redwood Company’s long-standing practice of injecting herbicides into tan oak trees. The focus of the Supervisors’ session is on the fire danger created by these standing dead trees — an estimated one million of them sprayed annually. It’s unlikely that the Supervisors will actually adopt a policy restricting MRC in any way, though the groundswell of opposition to the practice in recent months may have some staying power.

Concerns about fire danger spraying arise in an intertwined context of climate change and an historic drought. Records show that this region — the California North Coast, as with California as a whole — is hotter and drier than at any time since Euroamerican conquest in the mid-19th century. MRC’s spraying of herbicides has an even greater context, however, than the possibility of these trees being torched like so many matchsticks during the next wildfire.

MRC owns about 10% of Mendocino County’s private land. Its so-called “sister” company, Humboldt Redwood Company, owns roughly an equivalent percentage of Mendo’s neighboring Humboldt County to the north. Altogether, then, the absentee parents of this precocious brood of timber corporations — the multi-billionaire Fisher family of San Francisco — own more coastal redwood forest than any private entity ever has. As the environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions have become devastatingly clear, ecologists have started to measure the ability of forests to absorb CO2 — a process known as sequestration. They have found, unsurprisingly, that the world’s largest trees — coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) — store the most carbon of any living thing on Earth.

Given that the Fisher Family’s North Coast properties probably have as much carbon sequestration potential as any forest of equivalent size on the planet, the company’s practices have enormous consequences even beyond Mendocino and Humboldt Counties — and not only in regard to global climate change.

Reading I.F. Stone: Why we still won’t get anywhere unless we connect the dots…


From Naomi Klein
Common Dreams

One week ago, I was honoured to receive an “Izzy Award” for “outstanding achievement in independent media and journalism.” The annual award, which this year also went to David Sirota for his groundbreaking investigations into political corruption in the U.S. pension system, is named after the great muckraker I.F. Stone (“Izzy” to his friends).

In past years, the award has gone to people who do a far better job of embodying the legacy of Stone’s investigative reporting than I (Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill among them). But as I said at the ceremony at Ithaca College, I doubt the judges have given the honour to anyone whose grandparents would have been more thrilled. Without fail, my late grandfather Philip Klein would read I.F. Stone’s Weekly to my late grandmother Annie while she knitted some new creation.

In preparation for the ceremony, I read some of Stone’s environmental writing, and came across a piece that seems very worth sharing today. It’s the speech he gave on April 22, 1970—the very first Earth Day. Never one to mince words, Stone’s speech was titled “Con Games.”

GENE LOGSDON: What Truly Is Progress In Farming

The Contrary Farmer

Now that glyphosate (Roundup) doesn’t work so well, the chemical industry is using the old Agent Orange in various new herbicide admixtures. When the general public learns about this, there is going to be an uproar. But what if the only other alternative is for farms to “go back” to mechanical cultivation to control weeds. Big farms probably couldn’t do that because cultivating weeds is so slow compared to chemical weed control. But if big farms become obsolete, the world would end according to current economic theory. Is that true?

It is amazing what happens to your mental calculations if you start thinking about a future based on the assumption that smaller farms are inevitable. Without the striving to get bigger in order to get profitable, agriculture suddenly becomes a very promising way for more people to live and work, akin to gardening. Instead of glorying in how many acres big machines can prepare and plant in a day, we could take pride in figuring out how many people can be employed profitably in farming smaller units. Instead of counting how many jobs that factories create while make those machines, we could concentrate on how many jobs farming could provide at less energy and carbon cost. It is practical to control weeds with cultivation and hand labor on small farms and so the lack of herbicides would be only good news. Hoeing and plowing out weeds may not be the nicest work in the world but there have surely been more cases of clinical depression since we quit doing it.

Strange Matters…

From Top Documentary Films

Social psychologist Erich Fromm once said, “A technological civilization is programmed by the principal that something ought to be done if it is technologically possible. If it is possible to make nuclear weapons, they must be built even if they destroy us all.” So it is in the world of science as it is practiced today. The ambitious and beautifully produced new documentary Strange Matters shows us a scientific landscape populated by the most brilliant minds of our time – all collectively accelerating discoveries which could hold the power to destroy us all.

Such a discovery was made in August of 2014, when researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York uncovered the means by which to manufacture strange matter, a quark liquid which existed billions of years ago and is thought to have played a key role in the Big Bang. When properly manipulated, this liquid quark serves as the most explosive element in the known universe, and can consume and destroy all planetary mass.

Why journalists should (at least sometimes) be activists..


From Dan Gillmour

At the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, this week, I gave a talk entitled “Why Journalists Should be Activists,” and apart from a few departures from the text below, here’s what I said:

Two months ago, a New York Times journalist, investigative reporter James Risen, went on Twitter to denounce the Obama administration’s attitude toward the press. The administration, he said, was the “greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

Risen’s tirade became a topic of conversation in the community of people who watch and comment on journalism. Some said a reporter shouldn’t be expressing such thoughts publicly, because it might cause readers to question his – and his newspaper’s – commitment to objective reporting. But the newspaper’s editor in charge of of journalism standards told Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor,  that Risen had done the right thing.

“In general,” this editor said, “our reporters understand that they don’t and shouldn’t editorialize on issues we cover….I would put this in a different category.”

What category? Freedom of the press, of course. And he was right.

CBS Sunday Morning Airs Terrific Segment on Atheism in America…

CBS Sunday Morning aired an excellent segment Sunday morning on the Openly Secular campaign and the difficulties of coming out as an atheist whether it’s due to skin color, geography, or just plain fear.

Neil Carter, who blogs at Godless in Dixie, was featured in it (and did an excellent job). So was philanthropist Todd Stiefel and Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers.

[Mo] Rocca asked, “How did [your students] find out that you’re an atheist?”

“One of them had been stalking me on Facebook and saw that I had ‘liked’ a page about atheism,” Carter said. “And then she came to school the next day and started asking me in front of the students if I was an atheist, and I refused to answer the question, which to them was enough of an answer.”

The principal soon instructed him never to discuss anything to do with religion in class. And shortly after, he was transferred. “First, they moved me out of my classroom to a math class,” he said. “And then after that, they just told me they wouldn’t bring me back the next school year. They didn’t really give me any reasons, but obviously I knew what the reason was.”

We don’t know for certain why Carter was transferred. No reason was documented, and his school declined to talk with CBS News.

Yes, Americans are religious, particularly in the South, which is why it’s called the Bible Belt. Black Americans are especially devout. Nearly 9 in 10 African-Americans believe with certainty that God exists.

Which is why Rocca said to Mandisa Thomas, “Candidly, when I think ‘atheist,’ I don’t picture you.”

“Yeah, you might picture an old white guy,” laughed Thomas, an events services manager in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

In less than 10 minutes, the segment showcased more diversity than last month’s hour-long CNN documentary. Lots of blunt voices, too.

The part about how some people keep two Facebook pages — one that family members can see and another secret one that lets you be honest about your atheism — really got to me.

Kudos to Mo Rocca for featuring atheist voices we’re not used to seeing in the mainstream media and sharing a couple of really compelling stories in the process.

[Text above from Friendly Atheist]

Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War…


From Jeremy Scahill
The Intercept

A TOP-SECRET U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.

Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said.


See Complete Story here

WILLIAM EDELEN: Earth Day — A Love Affair With Nature…


The Contrary Minister

“…we have come to know what it means to be custodians of the future of the Earth — to know that unless we care, unless we check the rapacious exploitations of our Earth and protect it, we are endangering the future of our children and our children’s children. We did not know this before, except in little pieces. People knew that they had to take care of their own… but it was not until we saw the picture of the Earth, from the Moon, that we realized how small and how helpless this planet is — something that we must hold into our arms and care for.” -Margaret Mead

Earth Day is fast approaching, and for some strange cosmic reason, it is always “nature” that fills me with the most poetic love.

I realize that the writers and thinkers, the philosophers and mystics, who have most inspired me gave been those who brought me closer to nature and the natural world. Thomas Paine wrote “men and books lie… only Nature never lies.” And so it is. I have absorbed the thoughts of Annie Dillard… Loren Eiseley… Lauren van der Post… Goethe on “nature”… and Joseph Wood Krutch among many other men and women who have reminded me that I am a part of the natural world and the animal kingdom as Homo sapiens, but so human and animal.

WILL PARRISH: California’s Thirsty Wine-Grapes


In the San Joaquin Valley heartland town of Livingston, located along Highway 99 between Turlock and Merced, the United States’ most lucrative wine corporation, E&J Gallo, operates the world’s largest winery: a place where serried ranks of massive, 200,000-gallon tanks tower over the surrounding countryside, in a compound ringed by security fences.

Were California its own nation, its wine industry would be the world’s fourth largest in terms of revenue. Roughly 570,000 acres in the state are under the vine, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (which chairman, incidentally, was president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers for 13 years). And about half of that acreage is located in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which operate in conjunction with the area’s enormous industrial wineries.

Much of this grape-based alcohol production is enabled by California’s unparalleled water infrastructure, which transmits water from north to south, thereby turning the arid lands that supply Gallo’s oil refinery-like facility into a bountiful — and profitable — farming region. On the other side of the Coast Ranges, and further north, resides another thirsty portion where the wine industry places inordinate demand on its watersheds.


play ball

Under The Table Books

“When they start the game, they don’t yell, ‘Work ball.’ They say, ‘Play ball.’” Willie Stargell

The day before Opening Day of Baseball Season 2015, Lon Simmons died at the age of ninety-one. Lon and his broadcasting partner Russ Hodges were the San Francisco Giants radio announcers when I was a boy and a teenager, and Lon’s voice and laconic style are etched in my memory as deeply as the voice of any close relative.

Opening Day 2015 was five days ago as I write this, and in the first game of the new season the Giants eked out a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in our usual nail-biting fashion. Our super hero starter Madison Bumgarner pitched seven dominant innings and left the game with a four-run lead courtesy of our boys hitting singles and doubles in bunches. Our bullpen promptly gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth and we went to the bottom of the ninth clinging to a one-run lead.

Comedian Julia Sweeney Urges You to be “Openly Secular”

I’m urging you to just say you’re openly secular… You’d probably be surprised how much of an affect it has on other people. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say once I admitted that I wasn’t religious, it gave them the feeling like they could say that [too].

I love how honest she is about the harsh connotation of the word “Atheist,” and why alternatives might help make the idea more palatable for other people. Sweeney is behind the excellent one-woman show “Letting Go of God.”

This is all for the Openly Secular campaign, which is urging people to come out as non-theistic to at least one person on April 23.

The science is in, and god is not the answer…


From Epiphenom

Social_Progress_2015Yesterday the international polling organisation WIN/Gallup released the results of a massive new survey into religion worldwide (here’s their press release). You’ve probably seen the news reports, mostly talking about which countries have the most (or fewest) religious people, and speculating what that might mean.

Some other important data come out just last week – the latest update of the Social Progress Index.This also is a mammoth undertaking, painstakingly assessing the nations of the world against a battery of benchmarks divided into three categories: “Basic Human Needs”, “Foundations of Wellbeing” (health and basic education), and “Opportunity” – personal rights, freedom, tolerance and advanced education.

So here’s the question. Are the two correlated in some way – and if so, how? I downloaded the data to find out.

Atheist ‘terrorists’ face death threats…


From The Freethinker UK

Pictured above are a happy group of Turkish atheists enjoying a fraternal day out in the sun. It was taken before the authorities decided to equate non-believers with terrorism – and the Facebook page on which the photo first appeared has disappeared.

Furthermore, the Turkish Atheism Association’s webpage can no longer be accessed in Turkey. It was blocked in March. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned people to beware of “atheist terrorists”, accusing them of conspiring to overthrow his government.

The Atheism Association, the first of its kind in any Muslim-majority country, was officially founded in Istanbul in April 2014. It was upbeat when it launched, saying:

Now, there are finally civil rights organisations in Turkey for atheists and non-theists. It was to everybody’s surprise that these organisations were founded with virtually no legal or bureaucratic problems. 

People speculate that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s current government may have seen this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are actually not a totalitarian and anti-democratic government as they are often accused of being, and they even allow official atheist organizations. This may have been an easy way for them to try to polish their image.

Then it turned sour. And dangerous.


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