Farhad2000's Sift Talk Posts

Log in bug?

I have autologin on my account. On Firefox and Chrome when I land on the page my CSS styling is there but I need to log on. I can't because it says am already logged on. When I refresh it finally logs me in. It's minor but fairly annoying. Any fixes?

Videosift needs an HD channel

  (17 votes)
  (20 votes)
  (3 votes)
  (4 votes)
  (1 vote)

A total of 45 votes have been cast on this poll.

HD channel or tag, something to be ticked, dump HD videos in one channel must be legit sources and video since copyright HD stuff would be pulled.

Youtube arbritarily bans "Feelin' the hate in Jerusalem" vid

Posted this video recently - http://www.videosift.com/video/Feeling-the-Hate-In-Jerusalem-on-Obama-s-Cairo-Address

From Max himself:

Youtube has removed my video, “Feeling The Hate In Jerusalem,” on the baseless grounds that it contains “inappropriate content.” They have offered me no further explanation and have stonewalled my inquiries and attempts to rectify the situation. Thus they have censored a video that contains far less inflammatory content than thousands of video they are already hosting. Why? I won’t ascribe motives to Youtube I am unable to confirm, but it is clear there is an active campaign by right-wing Jewish elements to suppress the video by filing a flood of complaints with Youtube. At the same time these elements have attempted to paint me as a self-hating Jew determined to foment anti-Semitism.


The Crusade for a Christian US Military

An extract from "Jesus Killed Mohammed" http://harpers.org/archive/2009/05/0082488

As a whole, the military is actually slightly less religious than the general population: 20 percent of the roughly 1.4 million active-duty personnel checked off a box for a 2008 Department of Defense survey that says “no religious preference,” compared with the 16.1 percent of Americans who describe themselves as “unaffiliated.” These ambivalent soldiers should not be confused with the actively irreligious, though. Only half of one percent of the military accepts the label “atheist” or “agnostic.” (Jews are even scarcer, accounting for only one servicemember in three hundred; Muslims are just one in four hundred.) Around 22 percent, meanwhile, identify themselves as affiliated with evangelical or Pentecostal denominations. But that number is misleading. It leaves out those attached to the traditional mainline denominations—about 7 percent of the military—who describe themselves as evangelical; George W. Bush, for instance, is a Methodist. Among the 19 percent of military members who are Roman Catholics, meanwhile, there is a small but vocal subset who tend politically to affiliate with conservative evangelicals. And then there is the 20 percent of the military who describe themselves simply as “Christian,” a category that encompasses both those who give God little thought and the many evangelicals who reject denominational affiliation as divisive of the Body of Christ. “I don’t like ‘religion,’” a fundamentalist evangelical major told me. “That’s what put my savior on the cross. The Pharisees.”

Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases and an annual growth rate, in recent years, of 3 percent. Founded during World War II, OCF was for most of its history concerned mainly with the spiritual lives of those who sought it out, but since 9/11 it has moved in a more militant direction. According to the group’s current executive director, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, the “global war on terror”—to which Obama has committed 17,000 new troops in Afghanistan—is “a spiritual battle of the highest magnitude.” As jihad has come to connote violence, so spiritual war has moved closer to actual conflict, “continually confronting an implacable, powerful foe who hates us and eagerly seeks to destroy us,” declares “The Source of Combat Readiness,” an OCF Scripture study prepared on the eve of the Iraq War.

But another OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”

Six Questions for Juan Cole on Engaging the Muslim World

Juan Cole is one of the nation’s leading historians focusing on the Middle East. Over the past decade he has emerged as a commentator on Middle East policy and a reliable source for new ideas that may enable the United States to pursue its foreign policy objectives more effectively in the region.

1. What are the three biggest misperceptions Americans have about the global Islamic community?

One: If you watch American television, you see the most extreme charges against Muslims set forth by pundits. Some allege that Muslims are inherently violent and commanded by scripture to attack infidels. In fact, the Quran forbids murder and commands Muslims to make peace with people who seek peace with them. The “infidels” whom the Quran urges the faithful to combat were the militant pagans of ancient Mecca, who had aggressively attacked the Muslims and were trying to kill them all. The Quran praises the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels as full of “guidance and light,” celebrates the children of Israel, and says that Christians are closest in love to Muslims. Of course, some Muslims are bigoted and manage to ignore those parts of their scripture, but it is not the case that the religion is essentially militant. I’ve gone with Americans to the Middle East, and after a few days they typically come and confess to me that they are amazed at how nice the people are, how kind and generous to foreigners, and how little they resemble U.S. media stereotypes.

Two: Many Americans seem to view the Muslim world as the new Soviet Union, as a relatively monolithic and uniformly hostile bloc of nations. This point of view seems to me oddly detached from reality. Turkey is a NATO ally, and Washington has designated Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan as non-NATO allies. Other governments of Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have offered the U.S. intelligence, security, and/or military cooperation of a high order. Aside from Europe, there is probably no other culture area on the globe where the United States has as many formal and informal allies. The only countries the United States has relatively severe differences with among nearly fifty Muslim-majority states are Syria, Iran, and the Sudan, and that sort of thing changes over time.

Three: Americans underestimate how beloved American culture is in the Muslim world. U.S. films, television programs, music, Internet programming, and politics are matters of huge public interest, especially among youth. All the polling shows that “they” do not “hate our way of life” at all. Rather, there is enormous interest in democracy, more individual freedoms, and in free market reforms. Muslim publics report deep dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy on Israel/Palestine, on Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they dislike what they see as Hollywood sexual values. But the American dream is wildly popular, even (or especially) in Iran.

Read the rest at http://harpers.org/archive/2009/03/hbc-90004500

What is Dubstep?

Dubstep is a genre of electronic music that has its roots in London's early 2000s UK garage scene. Musically, dubstep is distinguished by its dark mood, sparse rhythms, and emphasis on bass.

Now for some examples from the Sift.

Benga & Coki - Night
Vote @ http://www.videosift.com/video/Benga-Coki-Night

Digital Mystikz - Haunted
Vote at http://www.videosift.com/video/Digital-Mystikz-Haunted

Skream - Stagger vs. This is England
Vote @ http://www.videosift.com/video/Skream-Stagger-vs-This-is-England

Skream - Midnight Request Line
Vote @ http://www.videosift.com/video/Skream-Midnight-Request-Line

A Conservative for Higher Taxes

Great article from Bruce Bartlett, one of very few conservatives who didn't abandon his principles in the face of party pressure these past eight years:

Hat tip to Daily Dish. Extracts follow. Full article is at:

Moreover, Americans’ zeal for tax cutting — the Republicans’ best issue for the past 30 years — has clearly waned. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans now favoring the Democrats on taxes, and polls by Gallup, Rasmussen, and Harris show an increased willingness to tax the rich and redistribute income.

I think conservatives would better spend their diminished political capital figuring out how to finance the welfare state at the least cost to the economy and individual liberty, rather than fighting a losing battle to slash popular spending programs. But this will require them to accept the necessity of higher revenues.

It is simply unrealistic to think that tax cuts will continue to be a viable political strategy when the budget deficit exceeds $1 trillion, as it will this year. Nor is it realistic to think that taxes can be kept at 19 percent of GDP when spending is projected to grow by about 50 percent of GDP over the next generation, according to both the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office. And that’s without any new spending programs being enacted.

If conservatives refuse to participate in the debate over how revenues will be raised, then liberals will do it on their own, which will likely give us much higher tax rates and a tax system that is more harmful to growth than necessary to fund the government. Instead of opposing any tax hike, I think it makes more sense for conservatives to figure out how best to raise the additional revenue that will be raised in any event.


Just a quick word of thanks to all that contribute to my channel. This is my favourite channel and the singular reason I love VS so much. I wish we still have it as a collective and not a channel.

I also wish we could roll all the videos into a legitimate TV stream that can be enjoyed on our TVs. MTV2 doesn't compare to this.

There are so many gems here its hard to see them all. Keep finding those obscure gems of Music!

Download YouTube Videos as MP4 files

Fearing that alot of my favorite clips will be pulled off YouTube soon I have started to archive everything I loved to create some DVD compilations of music and shit. I also got a MP3 player that has MP4 video support.

During this I found a good quick method to download videos in MP4 files off YouTube, basically you need Firefox 3, Greasemonkey addon and this script.

This will add a Download as MP4 link on the right in Youtube. Sometimes it will return incorrect formating that you will need to rename to MP4. It worked for all the videos I got so far.

To watch it on your PC just grab VLC Player.

If you got a MP4 video player, the files usually won't play right off Youtube, you need to usually convert it to MP4 video with AAC audio. MediaCoder is the best open source tool I found for this, as it has presets for converting it for PSP and other MP4 players right off the bat.

This Is The End.

With my video count standing at a very iconic 999 video posts, I feel it's time to take stock of my time and my experience here on VS.

The place really has changed a lot from the days when it was all green and orange, and it was a small tight knit group of people posting videos for pretty much each other. Channels came and went, there was some celebration when traffic numbers were broken and VS got featured in PC World.

Is it better? Well there is way more people, much more videos, more channels and tags then you can shake a stick at, comments posted by the second rather then by the hour. Whether is better or not is not for me to exclusively say, as people enjoy this website immensely, a testament to what Dag hit on when he came up with it, to Lucky with his modifications and eventually self coded CMS, and James for the earlier days when he used to Admin it.

But I feel its not the same, I feel its too big, its become a way station for all the videos around the internet rather then being exclusively quality based. But that was going to happen eventually anyway, there is a reason the Billboard and Box Office is so meaningless now, because they all operate on lowest common denominator factors. It's unavoidable no matter how much we would like to think otherwise. In a democratic structure we are all burdened to follow the Bell curve. We have overshot Dunbar's number here a long time ago. This is not a criticism its simply the nature of this free form beast. I don't really see a way this could have been avoided.

It's been fun for me, but I think it's time to move on. I think the medium of Internet video is still in premature growth, from hosts like Youtube, to way stations like VS, internet video will become categorized and edited in a magazine format in the future, an extension of the channels system we used to have back in VS 2.0.

With that belief me and Mink along with a few sifters have started our own site, small and cultist, exploring our own interests. Find it at http://www.videocu.lt.

It's been a great ride, I may come back and comment here and there.

I came, I saw, I posted, and all I got was a lousy t-shirt.

Life, Death, and the Beyond - Noesis Mega Society Journal

The following is an article by Cedric Stratton from March 2008 Issue 186 Noesis - The Journal of the Mega Society. the Mega Society is a high IQ society open to people who have scored at the one-in-a-million level on a test of general intelligence credibly claimed to be able to discriminate at that level.

Do you believe in God/Supreme Being/Uncaused Cause?

No, I do not believe in a supreme being. My rationale is entrenched in chaos theory. By carefully observing and analyzing the random interactions of large numbers of moving things, we can discern within the apparent chaos many ordered zones persisting for finite, measurable, periods.

Logical extension implies that an infinite universe, in time, will display every degree of order within that chaos, albeit surrounded by an overwhelming mass of material in disarray.

Given the magnitude of time, space, and circumstance, the geneses of galaxies, stars, planets and life do not require intervention by a superior being. I suspect that people studying the infinite variety afforded by the Mandelbrot set, or similar fractal systems, likely incline towards this, or a similar, point of view. With the infinite, all things are possible hence the spacetime infinity is sufficient unto itself.

Over geological time spans there are eras where an order exists with a few materials remaining stable for long periods. Again, over cosmic time, the current geological group of substances may have several forms; one stable set of substances changes to other stable substances, while others resist changes. Some of the unchanged persist; some of the new persist.

Human lives, on the scale of geologic and cosmic time are not even a blip on the radar of events. 100,000 years of humanoids in an estimated 10,000,000,000 years of existence of the Milky Way galaxy come to a trifling 0.0001%. The presence of ordered zones in a chaotic system imply that pockets of order come and go within the infinity of time and
space, and we (humans, the biosphere, the whole planet) happen to be in one at present.

If he exists, does he care about us?

This is moot, given my answer to the first part. If a being exists who ‘made us in his image’ then, regarding the time when dinosaurs were dominant, before humanoids even existed, I ask ‘in whose image were the dinosaurs made?’ Then again, at some time in the future when humans no longer walk the earth (or any other place), and a new prevailing life form replaces the human domain, in whose image would they be made—in the image of the same god, or a different one? If the same god, he has ceased to care about us; if a different god, the original was not immortal, invisible, etc.

Put differently, why should a being with the ability to exist in all places at once, make all things, do all things (according to one popular concept of god), pause along the way to care for each and every individual creature? When earth changes in a way to render human life impossible, and other life forms have their opportunity for a moment in the sun, the view of a caring god implies that the god must therefore have ceased to care for humans, in favor of the latest viable species.

2. Is life as we know it, the BEALLENDALL?

I have no problem with saying ‘yes’ to that one.

Do we just decompose body and spirit at death?

Undoubtedly. Again, I have no problem with ‘yes’ to that one either.

What happens to our consciousness/spirit/soul when we die?

I already sense an answer to this one – this time by answering a converse question: ‘where was our consciousness/spirit/soul before we were born (or conceived, according to one's view of when life begins)?’ My view is that we have already experienced the ‘hereafter’in its alter ego, the ‘herebefore’. Our recollection of it is zero, despite Shirley MacLaine’s claims. It seems logical that any consciousness/spirit/soul we had in the ‘beforelife’ should revert to the same form in the ‘afterlife’.

Why should its past form be different than the future form? Materially, our individual lives, during the organizing and reorganizing matter from nonliving to living and back again, are way stations in the matter of which we are made. Our bones will become the differently organized mineral calcium phosphate, our protein will be reshared with other life forms, and our blood salts will merge with sea salt. Body and soul are one.

My view of the living spirit/soul hinges on the notion that life goes inexorably onwards and upwards. Of the two choices, one granting ‘advantage’ and prolonged life (order), and the other, ‘disadvantage’ and curtailed life (early return to disorder), the path to ‘advantage’ bestows representational rights in following generations. ‘Choice’ seems to follow more closely the gift of self locomotion.

Plants, not having that gift, thrive where they may. They change within their lives only by adaptation, and in their progeny, by mutation. But motile organisms making good choices will survive, when similar ones making bad choices will not survive, hastening change. Self propelled organisms share this ‘choosing’ ability, which I judge is the seat of consciousness.

The humblest motile organism I know of that exhibits ‘choice’ is a tiny oceanic organism. Perhaps many species do this, but one example is all we need to make the point. This organism ‘dances’ using minute flagellae around its body, and the dance varies according to the wavelength of the light in which it is bathed. The two kinds of dance are described as the ‘blue’ dance and the ‘red’ dance.

It is zooplanktonic, and feeds on bluegreen algae floating in the ocean, almost at the surface. Wind action drives the algae into ‘windrows’, long lines at the sea’s surface, to become plantfood for this small herbivore. The algae use part of the light shining on them to sustain growth, and the light below them is changed accordingly. When the flagellate creature is amid the algae it feeds on, it ‘sees’ the remaining color, which lacks blue/green components, appearing reddish, and performs a vertical oscillating dance. As long as it is feeding the dance places it at different vertical stations within the windrow.

When the same flagellate is out in the open between windrows, it ‘sees’ a different color with more blue in the light spectrum, because the algae is not there to absorb the blue/green light component. Then the organism dances laterally, side to side. Sooner or later the dance brings it to a new windrow, and the pattern reverts to vertical oscillation, maintaining its position to benefit from the ‘choice’ so made.

If organisms follow no pattern, they suffer a feeding disadvantage. ‘Choice’ propelled the evolution of this organism towards more efficient versions of the original. I hope nobody out there reading this contends that evolution is ‘only a theory’.

I see ‘consciousness’ in more complex organisms (i.e., the higher animals), as an enormously multifaceted complex of many such ‘choices’, some more important than others. The more important ‘choices’ override the less important.

Some choices are conscious, some are embedded in the nervous system, but they still represent a ‘choice’—like when you instinctively withdraw the hand from a hot surface. Breathing is unconscious, but drinking is a conscious choice—we can have water or wine now—or we may choose to wait a little longer until the tea has brewed. When the body dies, choices no longer have consequences, so there is no further need for the spirit/soul. I contend the soul is not eternal, and is not recycled. I utterly discount Shirley MacLaine’s claims to previous lives. Because she is famous and has money, most people forget that she made it by playing very convincing ‘let’s pretend’ at the highest professional levels.

3. Granted a historic Christ, what do you believe about him?

Various authorities inform us that there were numerous Christs, the biblical one and many pretenders, which included a few genuine, earnest emulators.

My answers refer to the biblical one, scourged and crucified by the Romans, in the event instigated by local civic leaders in Jerusalem in Judaea.

He was the subject of many idealized life stories, of which just four were chosen for that great piece of literature, The Bible. These stories stretch credulity far beyond breaking. Walking on water? Turning water into wine? Rising from the dead? Who are we kidding? If the ‘wine’ miracle happened, were the usual laws of matter fleetingly revoked? Material laws yield to none, even temporarily.

How did it happen? Perhaps Jesus read the character of a rascally steward who stashed away the good stuff for his own later use, and when confronted by Jesus, he was obliged to fetch it back out. Doubting Thomas? Never happened. Jesus was either dead and did not reappear to the apostles, or he was not dead and appeared as an injured self who recovered—certainly not resurrected after having been dead.
Did anyone read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary?

However, from the several accounts of Christ’s life (all different, often in major details), one can tease out a core of the man’s reality. Undoubtedly he was a man with great charisma, deep love and concern for his fellow men, especially the downtrodden; sensitivity to social injustice; a compelling orator; wellversed in Mosaic law; and he held a deepseated disdain for the pomp and hypocrisy of the ‘powersthatbe’— the Pharisees and scribes, the moneylenders, the rich men, the rulers, all filled with their own importance, and most of them on the take.

He was the object of their deadly conspiracy because his charisma and popular following threatened their social order, and their position in it—similar to the way many southern whites felt threatened by Martin Luther King, Jr. during the early days of my residence within these shores. Were a Jesus Christ born today, I believe he would hold precisely the same attitudes and values as the original Christ, with minor modifications to suit the present day context.

I already described my view of the gospels—how the extant Greek and Roman god stories described many deities (and demons, too) with miraculous powers, among others, the ability to procreate with humans to produce demigods, and so on. The gospel makers wrote of Jesus’ goodness, love, forgiveness and tolerance as best they could, but I think they were tempted in the end to beef up his godliness by including miracles, so as to compare better with the other god literatures—curiously, the exact temptation that Christ was recorded as having resisted. So—no biblical style miracles. I do believe in miracles, but of chance or the inner spirit.

Common sense says miracles never overturn the laws of physics, chemistry and mathematics. . . . Having said that, comparing the Christian gospels with Roman and Greek god writings, I find the gospel stories commendably far more rational and sober, and the better for it—but they still overtax credulity. There are two views, maybe more, of the resurrection.

Either people saw another man with similar love and kindness towards his fellows, and metaphorically said‘he is the Christ’, in the same the way people seeing me for the first time as an adult, say ‘goodness me, it is Stanley (my dad’s name) all over again!’ Or it is a wishful account of what should have been, were justice served—an attempt to
reverse time, as if to deny Christ’s tragic last day—even after Christ showed a guilty adulteress a mercy, that he, an innocent, was denied. In that era women were stoned for adultery, and babies slaughtered on a seer’s prediction. That should not have been, but it was. Was he God, man, or both?

From various readings on how the brain works, I gather that there is a basic human need for a ‘higher being’. This need has been met many times in many cultures, so that basically ‘man made God in his own image’—not the other way round.

The god concept may be used for purposes noble or evil but is a human artifact. Most who follow a god do so for noble purposes, to gain inner strength and will, to better accept the adversities of life, and to help improve the lots of those less fortunate. To me, with no god necessary for life to exist, and no evidence of a physically real god, the one Christ was undoubtedly a man, a very extraordinary man, but still—a man.

In other writings I have suggested that there might be some benefit for believers if Jesus were seen as a man purely and simply. ‘Jesus as god’ offers no hope for the ordinary person to adopt Jesus’ loving and forgiving attitudes, and might cause one to complain ‘why bother? I am just a man, he was a god.’

But ‘Jesus as human’ permits a more optimistic attitude—‘If Jesus can, then I can too.

Although I am sure he was not a god, I can accept reference to him as ‘god’ metaphorically. This, by the way, is one reason why I attend a Lutheran church regularly.

Although I am an atheist, I feel Christian in everything except the theological component. I regard the communion rite as a reenactment of the poignant events and remarks surrounding Jesus’ last hours, at a time when he surely was aware of the nature and extent of the authorities’ conspiracy against him, and probably also realized the certainty that he would die because of it. If it takes a communion rite to remind people to behave with love and decency towards each other, I am happy with it, but I do not feel I need that reminder.

While the rest of the congregation partakes of the ritual at the altar rail, I commune alone in the choir stalls, singing vocal soli of one or other of the lovely pieces written especially for communion—pure theatre on my part, but church members often say that it stirs them.

4. What do you see as the purpose(s) in our lives.

Does there have to be a purpose? I always question, and in the questioning mode a word I frequently use is ‘why’? Why do we need a purpose? What happens if we simply ‘get on with it’? In seeking answers I try to disassociate by looking beyond the human species. It seems to help me focus objectively on the logic, by removing the subjectivity involved because of my status as a human. Thus I imagine, say, an anthill, and being uninvolved, I can answer in a more objective way ‘what do ants suppose is their purpose in life?’ The answer I keep reaching (outside the ecological ‘balanceofnature’concept) is: individual ants have no
purpose, they just ARE.

In the material scheme of things our lives, our world, our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe, are all driven by thermodynamics. Objects exposed to energy, no matter the type or origin, respond by intercepting it or allowing it to pass. Intercepted energy begets change. The change is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ in character, since ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are purely human constructs, and wholly subjective.

Absorption of energy always causes low energy substances to assume a higher energy. The change may be fleeting (briefly heated); or durable (they become other stable substances); or durable decomposition substances (the gaseous parts disperse, and the material is no more the same thing); the energy may be reemitted soon afterwards with reversion to the original state; or long afterwards by another agency’s intervention; or remain ‘locked’ in the higher energy state, as in gases formed by decomposition. Thus sunlight changes carbon dioxide and water into green plants, glucose, cellulose, and oxygen, and a gamut of other materials in the

Glucose and oxygen are high energy substances, and of them we say that the plant producing them has stored the energy from the sun. We can release that energy metabolically to perform biological work, or we can release it chemically to do mechanical work—for instance, by burning the wood to drive a steam engine.

While we still have much to learn about the details of our cosmos, nothing out there suggests we will ever have to change the basic laws governing energy and matter, although we may make modifications as new conditions impose boundaries for existing laws. For example, I see us discovering laws to apply under different conditions than at the earth’s surface, e.g., in the intense gravitational field near a ‘black hole’, but never actually overturning Newton’s laws of motion. To me, life processes, geologic processes, cosmic processes, all are just thermodynamics
at work.

Our role in the universe is a small feature of the energy balance as it passes from source to receptor—each receptor being source to the next receptor in line, and so on.

To me it all comes together as an elegant whole—nothing
wasted, only changed. Furthermore, no matter how slow it seems on our timescale, the changes are quite fast enough on the geological or cosmic scale.

5. The problem of evil in the world/tragedies caused by nature and man—how do
you explain it?

Again I ask—‘do we need explanations?’ When I taught oceanography, I used a small book by Willard Bascom, Waves and Beaches, to describe wave motions and their effects. Bascom was an engineer, who went everywhere, did everything.

He illustrated his chapter on tsunamis with a photograph of the harbor at Honolulu taken by a photographer from a safe vantage point several hundred feet above the impending danger, seconds before a several hundredfoot wave crashed into the docking basin. This towering wave commanded the entire picture, but in the picture was one small corner of one wharf not yet inundated, but in a few seconds it would be. On the wharf was the lone figure of a longshoreman trapped by circumstance or carelessness, frantically trying to flee—to where?—there was nowhere for him to go—a ‘chance’ of location.

In the same occupation in New York, Liverpool, or Marseilles, his life might have offered different, better, chances. The caption went something like—‘to the left center of the picture an unlucky longshoreman tries to escape the impending disaster’. His unfortunate end was a mere matter of chance. I suppose we could call this the quantum of tragedy—one man losing his life before his time in a vain fight against nature (in this case). It could just as well have been in a vain fight against the spiteful caprices of mankind in one of our many wars.

If we multiply this one death by a hundred, a thousand, a million, is it any more of a tragedy? I do not consider it so.

The degree of tragedy for each individual death, in the eyes of those survivors closest to the deceased, is precisely the same in every case. The only difference in the cases lies in the number scale we use to measure things. The ending of life occurs to all of us, some sooner, some later.

I think most people tend to agree that the defining feature of ‘tragedy’ is an untimely or needless death, snatched away from life into oblivion from the midst of a healthy, productive, joyous life. But is it more of a tragedy when 270 people are killed in one airline disaster rather than one driver dying in a car accident—or less, when 30,000 people annually die separate deaths in motor accidents? The scale may be different, but the individual intensity and experience is the same.

Humans are privileged to an extent found nowhere else in nature. Humans jealously count, and account for, each and every human life, documenting it from beginning to end—or we try to, anyway. But in the rest of nature, a different system operates. A typical small female bird lives ten years, and nests at least once a year after her first year. Here in the southeastern United States, many nest in both spring and fall. They typically lay up to eight eggs each mating season. If undisturbed, perhaps eighty percent will hatch. If the nestlings mature, in one year, they are capable of doing the same thing. One successful adult female bird could theoretically generate billions of offspring in her lifetime. But with mortality and predation being what they are, most adult females are lucky if, during a whole life, more than a few offspring survive.

In the African veldt gnus are prey for lions, the Tommies (Thompson’s gazelles) are prey for almost all the lesser predators. When each one dies, life goes on. The animals culled by predation are most usually the sick, the old, or the young who cannot keep up, or those lacking sufficient experience to do what is needed to continue the competition. But through it all, although more young die than survive, many young do survive to maturity, promising continuity. I think the human penchant for documentation of every human life is what drives the supposition that a god would show the same concern for details of every life—from humans to the fallen sparrow, the lilies of the field, and so on.

In my opinion, individual survival is just a matter of chance, often helped by the actions of an aggressively watchful parent. Extending simple chance from the animal kingdom to the human realm, I see no reason to step outside the laws of chance (in some cases chance alone, in others chance coupled with poor life choices). One person comes down with a fatal disease and dies young, while a neighbor exposed to the same conditions does not.

One with a heritable weakness of the lungs chooses to smoke, while his son chooses not to (my dad and I). One person traveling to the same office, over the same highway, for the same daily mileage as his peers, is killed in a car accident, while hundreds of his colleagues traveling the same roads live their entire lives with no such deadly mischance. Sad to see, when it happens, devastating for the immediate family, but mere chance nonetheless.

There is better authority than mine to say that god has no hand in survival, if chance is a sufficient explanation. According to philosopher theologian William of Ockham, (Ockham’s Razor), the best explanation for an observed phenomenon is the simplest—meaning: do not impute complexity beyond the minimum that accounts for what you see. If, later, some new aspect of the phenomenon appears, one is not
necessarily back at square one. A modification or addition to the original explanation, or defining boundary conditions, is often all that is needed.

Aside: Most creation theorists say that the theory of evolution is ‘only a theory’, and has been ‘disproved’ so many times it cannot be true. They ignore mountains of evidence supporting evolution, not the least of which is the accelerated selective evolution of food crops and farm animals within the short span of human history.
The theory of evolution has not been ‘disproved’, just modified bitbybit to accommodate details unknown in Darwin’s time. Just as changing the value of ‘pi’ as we learn better how to find it more accurately does not disprove its value—so changes in Darwin’s theory do not deny the original, just add richness of detail. Its basis has never been changed or seriously challenged, yet creationists keep trying to replace it by a different theory that has no supporting evidence and cannot be tested. They threaten a return to the scientific stone age, as they try to claim
authority that they want, but do not deserve.

Not one reputable scientist backs creationist theory over Darwin’s theory. However, creation theorists are often able to buy opinions of even PhD biologists who will write papers to support any theory, if only it brings them grant money—a
degrading outcome of the ‘publish or perish’ policy. The US public education system has become the laughing stock of the scientific world by putting creation theory (with its absence of valid supporting data), in science curricula, on the same footing as Darwin’s basic hypothesis (with its wealth of testable supporting

Back to the main drift: god is an unnecessarily complex explanation for what goes on around us whereas, in contrast, chance is simple, elegant, and sufficient. That, plus there already exists a mathematically sound basis for most observations about ‘chance’, that permit predictions, not of individual outcomes, but of overall outcomes—a sort of quantum theory of living objects.

Incidentally, Ockham was a major instrument in showing that the writings and sermons of Pope John XXII contained serious errors of logic, amounting to heresy. That pope was eventually dethroned, but the surrounding controversy led to Ockham’s excommunication—like he cared, when it was over. He devoted the rest of his life to deep aspects of logic. That Pope was the reason why it took so long for another to come along and adopt John XXIII as his papal moniker.

I regard as my philosophical progenitors, Kant, Hegel, Huxley (Julian, not Thomas, his father, nor Aldous, his brother), and Russell, to name a few. I have not read all
of their works, just enough to recognize that we are all on the same map traveling the same roads. I was privileged to hear Julian Huxley and Bertrand Russell once a week for a long period of time when they ran the BBC panel program The Brains Trust with discussions of such topics as this, a seminal experience.

I feel most kinship with Bertrand Russell. You might say he was my intellectual progenitor, especially since he was alive, well and extremely intellectually productive during my lifetime.

I cannot consider myself his intellectual equal, although had I been born with a golden spoon in my mouth, who knows? After all, he was Viscount Russell of Amberley, the third Earl Russell of Kingston, with a brilliant mind to boot, and I was not most of those things, perhaps not any.

However, he and I share a passion for mathematics, beautiful women, a heretical degree of skepticism, and a reliance on the evidence of the senses, extended as possible by tools to measure and detect things for which our given senses are inadequate, all coupled with logic used to the best of our ability.

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