Monday, August 30, 2010

Anthony's Nose


I just got back from camping upstate on a mountain called Anthony's Nose with my friend. It's about 900 feet high or so so it isn't technically a "mountain" (a mountain has to be 1000 ft high) but more like a hill. It sits across the Hudson river from Bear Mountain. As soon as I first saw it about 6 years ago I've always wanted to climb it, and this weekend I finally did. It's a nice little 30 minute or so hike to the top, and there are beautiful views of the Hudson Valley from some of the lookout points. It's so good to get out of the city to visit nature once in a while. I love the Hudson Valley and the Catskill mountain area. I feel this deep connection to the Northeastern part of the U.S. for some reason, and I'm really attached to the land here. It's probably because I was born in the Northeast.



Camping upstate has become an annual ritual for me. There is a bus that takes you from the Port Authority near Times Square to Bear Mountain State Park in a little over an hour. I love how on the return trip, you go from the wilderness to being left off right on 8th avenue in Midtown Manhattan, and experience such a dramatic change of environment.

Making a fire and sleeping outdoors is always a nice way to experience the way our ancestors lived for millennia, minus the packaged foods. The weather was perfect although a little chilly at night and a little too hot on Sunday. But either way we were blessed with fair weather, and clear skies that allowed us to see the stars that the city hides away. Although, Bear Mountain State Park, isn't far enough outside the city to see enough stars. At only 40 miles north of NYC, it sits at the edge of the NYC metropolitan area. Another 40 or 50 miles or so upstate is required to really see the stars.

I'd like to try camping in Autumn or even Winter one time. All I have to do is wait a few months and still want to go camping.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Debates About God, and Religion


Here are some interesting debates on YouTube about God and religion, check them out:





Part 2:




From the Center for Inquiry:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Seven Deadly Sins


Long is the way. And hard, that out of hell leads up to light.
-John Milton

When I was in high school I became obsessed with the movie "Seven". It's about a serial killer who kills his victims according to the seven deadly sins. The movie is a very dark portrait of a decaying American city, filled with crime, despair and awash in sin. I loved it and it had a profound affect on my during my adolescents. I wanted to do what the killer did, and rid the world of evil people. I've grown out of this fantasy over the years, and now that I'm older and know a great deal more about religion, I can reflect on the movie and its theme.

The seven deadly sins are not mentioned in the Bible, or by Jesus, they came about hundreds of years later in the 4th century by a monk named Evagrius Ponticus. They're an interesting list of vices that I won't dwell too deep into. They are:

Lust
Gluttony
Greed
Sloth
Wrath
Envy
Pride

I haven't read much literature about the seven deadly sins, but I might in the future. The movie is what I'm focusing on. It's suppose to be New York, before gentrification, before there was a Starbucks on every corner and million dollar condos were being built right next to housing projects. But New York is never mentioned in the movie, and the city is suppose to be a large anonymous American city, a template that could substitute for any large urban center. I loved how dark they made the movie. Seven was the darkest movie I had ever seen up until that point. Even the score was extremely dark and moody. The director used these low camera angles, and very low, dim lighting that is often pierced by bright yellow flash lights. We never see much of the cityscape, but only close ups of its more uglier districts. Every day it rains during the scenes in the movie, kind of like what's been going on in NY for the past 4 days. Rain rain rain. It's pouring rain now. The weather reminded me of the movie Seven and I guess that's why I wanted to write this post.

On the seven sins, the killer finds one person that exemplifies each sin to its extreme. An obese man, obviously guilty of gluttony; a lawyer filled with greed; a drug addict and pedophile guilty of sloth; a prostitute - lust; a beautiful model full of pride. The last two sins are part of the twist ending, and killers plan for himself to die. I see the movie as an example of how religion can make a man go absolutely insane with obsession and to find a perverse way to justify murder. I mean the killer was probably insane already, but religion gave him the justification he needed to torture and kill his victims. In his eyes, they were guilty of sin, of violating God's laws, and he was doing God's work by killing them. He thought God was on his side. He believed he was chosen by God to commit the murders he did: a martyr for God. Christopher Hitchens ponders what limits will people put on themselves when committing evil acts if they think they have God on their side. He makes the argument that when people think God is on their side, they will stop at nothing. No amount of violence or death is too much for the believer who thinks God is on their side, it justifies everything that might otherwise be deemed immoral.

And the movie "Seven" shows exactly how that can be true.


"One pound of flesh, no more no less, no cartilage no bone but only flesh, this task done...and he would go free."



Monday, August 23, 2010

Transitions


Today is the first somewhat cool day of the summer, indicating that Fall is just around the corner. I turned my air conditioner off, didn't need it. Opening the window does just as good. It's gray and rainy out. This type of weather pretty much guarantees a depressing mood, but strangely enough I felt motivated and a bit happy this morning.

I don't want to bore you with my petty little feelings so I'll get to some issues. I was reading the Qur'an recently and noticed how easy it is to find messages in it inciting hatred towards the nonbelievers. One can pretty much pick a random page from the Qur'an, and start reading, and within a few pages find some nasty descriptions of the nonbeliever. There is a part that clearly says the nonbeliever should be thrown into fire. Maybe that's a metaphor. Even if a Muslim isn't actually going to throw an infidel into fire, the hatred behind sanctioning such an act is enough.

Then there's the Qur'an on women. It clearly says men are better than women because Allah made one better than the other. So women were designed with a flaw in them that men don't have. I wonder if this means for everyone without exception? There seems to be a recurring theme regarding Allah as the shit. Allah is constantly praised over and over to the point where redundancy becomes overkill. It makes me sick. Can he do now wrong? Is there anything that he is capable of doing that isn't absolutely perfect? Muslims don't think so. I've already established that Allah is not the most beneficial or merciful in past posts. He sounds more like a sadistic, ego maniacal character made up in the mind of a desert Arab, however noble he is said to have been.

The Mosque controversy continues and has now become a full blown national issue. I know that block where it is to be placed. A friend of mine used to live there. Truthfully, yes it is not at ground zero. If I wasn't against religion so much I wouldn't care about the location. Since I've read about and done my research on the Qur'an, and Islam, I do not think that Islam is a religion of peace. It seems to equate the nonbeliever with being a lier, and a despicable person, full of hate and rage. "Hell with you and those that follow you, every one" the "holy" Qur'an says about the nonbeliever (Surah 38:85). It shows no mercy for those who don't accept what they consider to be revealed truth. Many Muslims even have sympathy towards non Muslims (the misguided). It is not a very tolerant philosophy Islam is. At all.

The largest source of material I use against Islam is the Qur'an itself. Ridding the world of this menace would do society an enormous favor. Have I become an anti-theist? Pretty much.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer 2010


Oh what a long hot Summer it's been. I was hoping for some Summer love, but it just didn't happen. Summer won't be over for another month, so who knows. Maybe they'll be some Autumn love. Maybe there won't be any at all. I dated one girl this Summer, but it didn't result in anything significant. This was a Summer without love.

I went on vacation in the beginning of the Summer to Asia, which made it a little different this year. I hung out a lot, but spent a lot of time alone. I didn't have work this Summer which was weird. I am always a bit depressed when the Summer ends. It used to be caused by going back to school in the Fall but now it's mostly about the weather changing and getting colder. I've learned to appreciate the Fall a little more recently. The transition from hot to cold, abundance to scarcity. Wearing jackets and sweaters. I won't be shopping this Fall because money is too scarce for me. I'll have to recycle old looks and try to make them look new. Anyhow, longing for Summer to stay at the end of August is something I do annually, it's a part of me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Urban Density


Continuing on my fascination with cities, particularly NY, it strikes me how much suburban sprawl there is in America. While making 3D buildings on Google Earth I noticed that a lot of European cities are much denser than almost all American cities. Most people live in apartments in Europe, even in the smaller cities and towns. In the U.S. most people live in detached houses. That's always been the American dream.

Americans like owning houses and Americans like their space. Space is what the pioneers found when they arrived in the New World: a giant near-empty continent, sparely populated by Indians. So they spread out from the cities of the east, to the great plains of the Midwest, eventually reaching the Pacific. What we have as a result is miles and miles of suburban sprawl, aided by the invention of the automobile, and the domination of the "big oil" companies. The epitome of this is Los Angeles. Many American cities and towns are built around transportation by automobiles. European cities are not. They were built years before automobiles and thus remain tightly compacted for easy transport. A few tiny parts of a few American cities resemble this, most notably the Wall Street District of Manhattan, and Boston's North end.

That tight density gives European cities their distinct flavor. It gives them their street life. Most American cities with several exceptions, have no street life because everyone is in their car. What you'll have is a few strip malls or a single commercial district, where people park their cars in go right inside to do their shopping. No walking, no motorbikes, or any bikes. I was in Portland, Oregon a few months ago and was shocked at how dead it was on a Saturday night, there wasn't a soul around. That's one of the things I hate about American cities: they're too boring and void of life. NY is the obvious exception to the rule here. NY has great street life, and not in just the Central Business District. That's one of the reasons why Europeans like it here. That's also why so many American tourists from other cities are shocked at how many people are out walking on the streets of NY.

In LA (which I loath) the rich want to live in the sprawling suburbs, whereas in NY the rich often tend to want to live in the city. They city, and city life is what draws people to NY. Who would want to live in the suburbs of NY? They are practically just like suburbia of almost anywhere else in the US. No, it's the city that people want. The exact opposite is true for many other cities in the US. Consequently most inner cities look like shit and many people have to drive 10 or more miles to get to work. I wish that we would, as a nation, move towards a more urban way of living, less reliant on the automobile, and reinvest in our cities. This is beginning to happen but the problem with this is that the poor who are living there, are often kicked out as a result. How can we balance this? Well for one thing even without investment, the poor can make their communities look better by not polluting and taking care of their environments. "Don't shit where you eat" comes to mind. You don't need massive capital investment to clean up a neighborhood. This concerns me since I may never get rich, and I don't want to get pushed out to the suburbs one day if I can't afford to live in the city anymore. In the end money almost always wins out, which is why I had a fall out with capitalism recently. But I have not embraced socialism fully as a result. I'm still trying to find the type of economic system that's perfect for me. It's like capitalism but with elements of socialism intertwined with it. That's really for another post anyway.

The bottom line is: suburbia scares me, and I want American cities to look more like Europe's.

The Reason for Ritual


As an atheist, I have often forgotten the power of ritual, and ceremony. I was once having a really stressful day at work, fixing some computer problems at this Jewish school. Then this young Hasidic Jewish man came into the room and he started singing in Hebrew, this religious chant. I had no idea what he was saying, but almost as soon as he began singing, I felt this immediate wave of calm over me. It was amazing. I had another experience when I was surrounded by some Hindus who lit some ceremonial incense and began moving it around the room. Upon seeing this and smelling the incense, I felt that same sense of calm and relaxation that engulfed me. It's a great feeling.

Now, being that I'm an atheist and don't take part in any ritualistic ceremonies whatsoever, I have rarely experienced this type of religion-induced state. I have to admit that I realize why ceremony and ritual, and I'd say meditation also, is so important to so many cultures and religions. They do have very powerful effects on the human psyche. I'm not against any of these acts, in and of themselves. I do when superstition takes over and persuades people that if they don't do the ritual right, or on the right night, spirits or God(s) will punish them, or their livestock and crops. The superstition that the rituals are tied to are what I am against.

Some say that without the superstitious element behind the ritual, the ritual won't be as powerful, they'll be rendered impotent. I understand this, but there are many traditions and rituals that take place today that were started as religious or pagan practices, that have had their supernatural elements discarded. Think of Halloween. Can't we have singing and chanting and traditional foods and dance, without the superstition behind it? I don't want to eradicate all of the aforementioned, just the outdated supernatural elements behind it. What's wrong with that? It's a move towards modernity that I want to instigate, while trying to retain tradition.

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