Twitter
Social Media

Follow BillyDees on Twitter


Hello I am Billy Dees and I am thrilled that you stopped by my website! This website is a collection of my editorials and blog posts. Social issues, politics, and pop culture are among the topics featured. The Billy Dees Podcast is available on most of the major internet radio platforms. An episode list starting with the most recent and live shows will appear here:

Listen to "Billy Dees Podcast Show" on Spreaker.


Religion, Extremism, Violence, and Faith

Editorial/Opinion

There has been much debate in the media and society at large about what the proper terminology should be for the religious extremist groups behind a growing terrorist threat in the Middle East and throughout the world. The Obama administration has taken center stage in this debate for not referring to self-proclaimed Islamic terrorists as part of “Islamic extremism.” The administration has opted for the term “violent extremism.”

For me this topic transcends the names we assign to various extremist groups. This is a multi-layered subject and what gets lost in the shuffle is the pivotal role that faith itself plays into our religious and cultural attitudes toward each other.

In defense of the President and his administration’s reluctance to use the word “Islamic” in connection with “violent extremism” there are three points that we must consider relating to foreign policy and national security.

First, the President needs the help and support of Islamic leaders throughout the Middle East to combat extremism and especially ISIS. He cannot afford any confusion in his terminology referring to the enemy. Second, in addition to religious affiliations there are political and cultural struggles going on for power and control between the Shia and Sunni along with the offshoots of each and among other regional groups. Third and critically, aspects of the Islamic religion are in fact misrepresented and used as recruiting tools by Islamic extremists to legitimize their cause and get more fighters on board who are avid believers and willing to die in the name of their religion.

At the same time, throughout the world the amount of violence linked to Islamic extremism either directly from the leadership of various radical groups or by the fanaticism they inspire is substantial. To slap an ambiguous label onto it may not serve in the best interest of identifying the problem. Additionally there is a sensitive politically correct climate which labels any criticism of Islam as “Islamophobia.” I would absolutely agree that we must avoid sweeping generalizations and paranoia. However, there is a point where my openness to “political correctness” concerning the relationship between any assortment of religious extremists and their respective faith begins to run short.

Although any given extremist group or oppressive religious cultural norm may have other economic or political motivations, faith is the contrivance that establishes allegiance to a cause. Furthermore, when examining the nuances of any religious fanaticism you almost always discover that many of the tenets held by the zealots are not as confined to the fringes of the religious mainstream as they first may seem.

Claiming that Jihadism has no real role or connection to Islamic fundamentalism is akin to saying Christianity had nothing to do with the Crusades. We could talk around Christianity’s influence of the Crusades in the same way we talk around Islamic extremism. 

Crusaders were not representative of all Christians. What really was at play was a grab for territory and power. They were using a perversion of the Christian faith to recruit followers and evoke the name of God in their conquests.

There is some truth in those statements as there is when referencing similar points in regard to Islamic extremism. However, to discount the role of the Christian faith in the systemic political and cultural mix of motivations and moral superiority behind the Crusades would be wrong. 

A modern incarnation of this type of danger is ISIS which is as large as an army, well financed, and becoming a threat to entire nations in the region. In addition to their inflated Islamic tenets they also embody an ideology that holds the west as an enemy of Islam as a whole. To ignore these rudiments of their beliefs would be a miscalculation in the analysis of the enemy.

Advocates of using the term “violent extremists” as opposed to “Islamic extremists” point out that extremists are only a small portion of the Muslim population and they do not reflect the beliefs of the majority as a whole. This is very true. In fact, Muslims are often the victims of Islamic extremism. We must also certainly acknowledge the many Muslims who have fought against violent extremists. However, stating that violent extremism is only a small non-representative portion of the Muslim population as a simple matter of fact is minimizing the overall size of the threat for everyone in its path.

It is true that only one or two percent or even a fraction thereof of Muslims fall into an extremist category. The vast majority of Muslims are also non-violent. However, regarding a religion that reportedly has 1.6 billion followers those small percentages reflect millions of people.

A litmus test for measuring the scope of religious extremism would be burning a holy book. If an official of the United States burned The Bible on the Capitol steps there would be some unhappy Christians for sure. Pat Robertson would have to go on oxygen. However, if the same thing would be done to a Quran there would be chaos all over the world. Every United States military base and embassy would be battening down the hatches because of outraged Islamic extremists.

Violent retribution sparked by such things as videos and cartoons deemed as religious desecration by Islamic Extremists are also widespread and are hardly a small problem. Christians were offended by the 1987 Piss Christ, distastefully depicting a crucifix submerged in urine. However, when it was exhibited in New York that year one could make the argument that it was more beautiful than The Mona Lisa. Why? Because we live in a country that extols the separation of church and state along with free speech and an artist can exhibit such a work of “art” and not be executed. They are principles that we should never be apologetic about. 

Moreover, some of the oppressive ideals held by Islamic Extremists are in fact shared by wider segments of Islamic culture. In Yemen married men can be sentenced to death by stoning for homosexual intercourse. Under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Sharia Law, a married man engaging in sodomy or any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim can be stoned to death. Likewise in accordance with Sharia Law in Iran, homosexual intercourse between men can also be punished by death. Similar penalties exist from region to region for leaving the Islamic faith or adultery. I could go on here but you get the idea.

Furthermore, to pretend that the faith held by any religious extremist has nothing to do with his or her violent actions is a canard. Islamic extremists often conduct religious rituals before conducting a suicide attack and believe their actions are in service to God. What I have never heard any world leader address is the dangers of such radical and ardent faith itself.

There is a certain amount of crazy associated with religion in general. You can sometimes notice that moderately religious people are aware of this as they discuss the extent of their faith and distance themselves from the more radical elements. “Oh yeah I’m religious but you know not real religious.” In other words they are the right amount of crazy. There is a fine line between the faith that can move mountains and the faith of a terrorist organization. Sometimes to fall into the depths of religious extremism all we need is a little push.

Especially when we are depressed or in need of inner strength the desire for faith and purpose can often leave us vulnerable. Certain preachers who are far from taking a vow of poverty are happy to provide emotional sanctuary to you in the form of a lavish church along with eloquent sermons. Why wouldn’t you want to help them spread the word to shine the light on others by making a donation? Maybe you can take a bit of that feel good stuff home in the form of a copy of their new book or a subscription to their newsletter? Similar stratagems are implemented by many psychics, mediums, and other faith entrepreneurs. It is among the world’s oldest slights of hand.

In more dangerous situations faith can become a facilitator of extremism among a mix of unscrupulous things in areas of the world that undergo continual religious and political turmoil. When certain religious factions or economic groups feel oppressed it opens the door for the susceptible to have a faith in something greater than themselves and to belong to a cause. This is the perfect environment for the rise of radicalism. As this radicalism gains momentum it also obtains the allure of power. This power along with far-reaching religious and ideological rhetoric recruits new members from all over the world and from all walks of life. It can happen anywhere and is from the same petri dish that yields a cult. 

The power and manipulation of religious faith cannot be understated in regard to terrorism. It can be very comforting when someone is dying to hear that there is something better after life. At the same time this devaluation of life in the present can be a powerful incentive in persuading someone to strap on a bomb and blow up people in a crowded marketplace. The young, who often have a sense of immortality to start with, are the easiest to convince that their actions will result in a special place in the paradise of the hereafter. Standing up for “God and country” sounds very noble but like it or not it is the same credo held by a suicide bomber.

In essence this is how religious faith can be wrought into the inspiration to fly planes into buildings or for that matter throw bombs into abortion clinics.

Many Christians, some of whom are the most vocal critics of Islam, are guilty of falling into the same pitfalls of unwavering faith and also often hold the same values as their more extreme constituents.

I have had any number of conversations with various Fundamentalist Christians about abortion. When I say Fundamentalist Christians I am referring to certain Fundamentalists whose early movement grew out of resistance to theological modernism which among other things tried to accommodate the theory of biological evolution. Certain Evangelicals who adhere to the historical accuracy of the Bible and the "born again" experience in receiving salvation are also inclusive.

When I have brought up an abortion clinic bombing or shooting with various fundamentalists their response is almost always a pat statement that these actions are wrong and not Christian. However, upon questioning these activities further things get a bit more interesting. 

Do you believe abortion clinic bombings are permissible for the purpose of discouraging women from having an abortion? Do you believe defending the rights of the unborn in the name of Jesus is a noble religious endeavor? 

In these cases the rhetoric of a Fundamentalist against an abortion clinic bomber will almost always soften. Few Christians across the board refer to abortion clinic bombers as terrorists. To be clear the vast majority of pro-life activists are non-violent and do not condone violence. However, the protests directly in front of women’s clinics are clearly designed to intimidate and shame women. Additionally, there is always the subliminal threat that some religious nut case is going to do something. Women’s healthcare workers are often afraid to work at these clinics and Christian pro-life demonstrators know it.

In a recent conversation I had with a Christian Fundamentalist I asked him why the phrase “the sanctity of life” was never used in connection to the homeless or those needing healthcare. His answer was, “Those people had their chance.” I’m not sure exactly what people of whom he was referring. The poor who have never been blessed with God's grace maybe?

The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for protesting the funerals of soldiers claiming that their deaths are the result of God’s retribution for America’s permissive attitude toward homosexuality. Most Christians would not agree with their vulgar methods. This “church” is very small but the flip side of this is that substantial percentages of the public, Christian and otherwise, are in total agreement with the Westboro Baptist Church that homosexuality is an abomination and an affront to God.

The belief held by many Christians that the United States is a divinely favored nation played a key role in the implementation of Manifest Destiny. Most of the Christian fundamentalists who I have debated on this topic are still reluctant to express any empathy for the plight of the American Indian.

For the record, as a non-believer I do not feel that most religious people are a problem or are in any way infringing upon my rights. I have known many Christians and Muslims whose spirit of humanity gushes forth upon their first handshake. I happen to believe these wonderful and generous people would be just as good of people without their faith but to each his own. Concurrently, I do not believe that religious faith is a prerequisite for meaning and purpose in one’s life. The process by which some people find inner peace through religious faith is no different than those who find it through meditation or taking a hike in the woods and becoming one with nature. Inner peace dwells within us and we find it by having faith in ourselves.

Religious extremism and the violence that often goes with it speaks to the dangers of unchallenged beliefs and ideals rooted in faith. It is tragically ironic that three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; all share the same ancient texts and holy lands yet always seem to be at odds with each other. The authors of these holy writs had just a modicum of accurate knowledge about the world. Yet, what they wrote long ago is so important that we have hated and killed each other over it for millennia.

I’m not sure if that is an indictment of religion or a testament of mankind’s stupidity and insanity.

Maybe it would be worthwhile for everyone to set the comfort of religious faith aside, just once in a while, and relish the life we have in this world. Every breath, every heartbeat, and every smile is precious. We all can agree life in this world is extremely short. Maybe we should all work together to extend it as long as possible and not worry so much about the hereafter. That is the anti-extremism message I would like to hear from our politicians to other leaders of the world.

What are the odds of that? Maybe religious faith is the extreme concept that everyone is really afraid of.

The Right to Live and Die - Death with Dignity

Life is short. For some, it is cut even shorter. Enjoy life. Never miss a chance to tell someone that you love them.(Please note the update at the bottom of this post.) The right of sick and dying individuals to choose when they wish to die has always been a controversial topic. It has risen to significant levels in the public discourse several times during the past few decades. One of the most notable controversies of years past was regarding Dr. Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian, dubbed “Dr. Death” by many, the euthanasia activist famous for often championing a terminal patient's right to die. He claimed to have assisted well over a hundred patients to end their lives.

Recently, the sad set of circumstances regarding Brittany Maynard has taken center stage in a similar debate about what has become known as “death with dignity.”

Brittany Maynard is a young and beautiful woman. Under different circumstances she would have everything to live for. However, after having been married for just over a year and after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After her initial diagnoses and several surgeries, she learned last April that her tumor had returned and was more aggressive. Doctors at that point gave Maynard a prognosis of six months. After researching her illness and the accompanying recommended treatments Maynard concluded that her condition was futile in respect to any quality life as the months would ware on and opted for a "death with dignity" solution.

Maynard and her family decided to move to Oregon which is one of only five states that permit “death with dignity” briefly defined as an end-of-life option for mentally competent and terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. More specifically Oregon, Washington and Vermont have "death with dignity" laws that allow terminal patients meeting these criteria to voluntarily request and receive prescription drugs which are self-administered to quickly bring about their death. Judicial decisions in Montana and New Mexico permit doctors to prescribe fatal drug doses in such circumstances however the rulings haven't progressed into becoming state laws.

Maynard produced a video that went viral during the past weeks or so (located for your reference at the bottom of this article) and also announced that she planned to die via the prescription drugs scheduled on November 1, 2014 surrounded by her family and close friends. In the last week or two Maynard managed to achieve a major goal on her bucket list, which was a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Just in the past 24 to 48 hours (at the time of this writing) Maynard seemed to have put off the plan to die on Nov. 1st. She was quoted as saying, “I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now.”

As I have followed the Maynard story in the news and social media it does seem as though there are two camps on this issue with very little middle ground.

I would say the support for her on the one hand has been over-whelming.  I have noticed many people posting comments in support of Maynard who have had family members die excruciating deaths. Also, many have noted in their comments that they are medical professionals who perfectly understand her decision to “die with dignity.”

Maynard has also had her detractors. Many of her most staunch opponents not surprisingly come from religious circles citing that only God can decide when death comes. Others are also alarmed by the amount of support she gets in the public forums claiming that “death with dignity” is veiled terminology for suicide.  I would concede there is a certain risk that would need to be addressed to guard against the abuse of these options, especially by family members, if legalized on a larger scale. Other remarks question why we should be celebrating "suicide" as a heroic act.

After her announcement to possibly put off the November 1st date for her death here is a random sampling of some comments by various individuals on social media:

“God is never a minute early or late. Let him decide”

“Alright, well she's had enough attn....I'm sure she's benefited from this circus she created.... I.e. free stuff, trips ect....”

“Little Internet fame got her rethinking?”

“I say fight to live as long as possible...”

“I can only hope when it is her time, she has peace. Sad situation, but a very brave woman.”

My own analysis of this is as follows. For this being 2014 we certainly have some archaic notions about death in our society. We have this mental construct of death being a dark hooded villain about to slay our white silk-shirted life. We want life to fight death to the bitter last breath and never surrender.

It makes for a good story but it is nothing but a leftover of mysticism.We want to keep the grim reaper as far away as possible. This may very well be why we often treat the elderly so poorly. Old people remind us of our own eventual mortality and therefore belong put away somewhere in cold sterile environments. Yes, there are many times when the medical needs of our older loved ones are truly beyond what we ourselves can privately provide. However, there is a tendency among our youth crazed society to keep anyone who is anywhere near death as far away as possible. Who wants the grim reaper hanging around in the hallway upstairs?

Well, there is no grim reaper. Death is not a sentient entity and this is not the fifteenth century. Life is not in a never-ending duel with death. These concepts and others like them such as the angel of death do nothing but instill unnecessary fear and diminish the outlook of dying as being part of the natural end of life process. Death is merely a term to describe the final stage of life.

Life comes around to a close for everyone eventually. Unless it is caused by an accident or something akin to a massive heart attack, dying will likely be some sort of a progression as opposed to a moment for many of us. I find it anomalous that we as a society are so obsessed with liberty and for the right to live our lives as we choose except for how to manage the end of our own life cycle. For some reason we must fight to stay alive down to the last puke-choked gasp for air.

We need to reform our attitude toward the sick and the dying. We need to show love and support for the elderly and others in end of life situations. Absolutely, our healthcare system should provide the best means to provide the support of life for anyone who wants it for as long as they want it. This includes healthcare insurance to make sure that no one ever has to struggle with medical bills as part of any decision they may have to face. However, when the instinct of self-preservation starts to wane in the human heart we then need to surround our loved ones with the support they need to let go in the manner in which they are most comfortable. For many, that may mean choosing to die when they are mentally cognizant enough to appreciate the love and support of those around them.

In the words of Forrest Gump, “Momma always said dyin' was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn't.”

*****

Note:

I will be following the Brittany Maynard story and will post updates when possible. If any of you run across more information on this story or have an opinion on this matter please feel free to post it in the comment section or tweet me at @BillyDees  Below is the video that went viral. In case you missed it Brittany Maynard made it to the Grand Canyon.

 

Atheism Needs to Find a Soul

Some of the non-believing undertones I inject into my editorials have garnered me a fair amount of jabs from the extreme religious right. I consider myself a non-believer who is equitably objective in these matters and in all fairness I would say that there is also no shortage of extremism in contemporary atheistic circles.

I avoid the term "atheist." It conjures up images of people protesting Christmas mangers and that is not my gig. I have better things to do with my time. I presume most atheists are similar to me, quiet practical folks who go about their business and try their best to be good people. Unfortunately, it is the more radical ilk of atheists who are doing much harm to such causes as reason and humanity.

I am completely for the separation of church and state as it relates to policy. I am most disturbed by fundamentalists in various positions of government who often vote on matters such as funding for medical research, women’s rights, and similar issues based upon religious convictions rather than scientific merit, justice, and practical fiscal investment. Certain fundamentalists acting upon their beliefs while serving in government deserve ground swells of criticism and need to be voted out.

That being the case, however, I feel that certain atheist groups will gain little ground by ridiculing or insulting religious fundamentalists at large. The passion behind such belief is too strong and such blatant negativity thrown their way only emboldens fundamentalists’ positions in an almost martyrdom fashion. The real shame here is that when atheist groups scattergun vitriol at all people of faith, reasonable people in the fertile middle ground adopt a negative impression of all atheists as just simply godless. Don't forget, we need these votes!

For instance, the politically correct hysteria that some atheist groups have generated about religion in schools has made teachers nervous about even mentioning Jesus Christ as a historical figure. Major religions for better or for worse have significantly affected the development of modern civilization and are in fact a substantial part of history. Middle America has a hard time understanding these politically correct restrictions in school. 

It should be noted as well that most believers do not deserve the condescension and the trampling upon of their traditions by atheist groups. Almost all of my friends maintain some sort of a religious or spiritual belief and simultaneously live hard-working and commonsense principled lifestyles. A good person is a good person and I do not care what gives them purpose. All I know is that the world needs more good people, period.

I have had more than one devout atheist give me a lecture on Twitter as to what the term "atheist" really means. Okay, I understand that “atheism” is a passive term. The “a” simply means “without.” In this case the total meaning is “without belief in regard to a deity.” I can't get that hyped about the non-existence of something but to each his own. If you are that motivated as an "atheist" to be out publically protesting religion then you are more than just a non-believer in a god. This is why the atheist creed that the public is becoming familiar with is more of an anti-theist ideology and the “religion is bad” message seems to be the only one that atheists have. 

If you doubt me on this feel free to follow the hash-tags “atheism” or “atheist” on Twitter. The Easter and Passover season of 2014 had a barrage of anti-theological Christian and Jewish tweets.

This is why I have often stated over the years that atheism needs a public relations overhaul. The status quo being what it is, literal definitions aside, when the public hears the term "atheist" it is almost always in conjunction with some atheist group complaining about religion.

A cross doesn't bother me one bit because my name isn't Dracula. It also comforts millions of people.A perfect example of this is the protests and actions against the 911 Miracle Cross from being included in the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum. An atheist group, American Atheists, has challenged plans to place steel components from the wreckage of the World Trade Center from 911 on public property because it is in the shape of a cross and thus violates the separation of church and state. The cold hard legal dynamics of this may very well favor the atheists but I do not care. To win the battle of ideas you have to win hearts and minds and this sure as hell isn’t going to do it.

The religious right is often correctly criticized of not being tolerant. Well, in a free society tolerance works both ways. Deal with the cross already. Why is this so important?

To form an atheistic quintessence as such that people can identify with, proponents of atheism need to tone down the anti-religion rhetoric. Everyone expects an atheist to make disparaging remarks about religion. Do the unexpected. Be respectful. Stop telling people of faith that what they believe in are fairy tales. There are plenty of skillful ways to logically exhibit the pitfalls of faith after a constructive dialogue is opened.

If atheists really believe in the tenants of humanity it is time to be humanistic. This does not mean just quoting Albert Schweitzer or Isaac Asimov. I quiz atheists every so often about what positive message they may wish to extol. They throw me little scraps about humanism but invariably fall back on anti-religion hyperbole. Ok I get it. The public gets it. Religion is bad. So what kind of positive dogma do you have?

For example, maybe what groups like American Atheists should do with their resources instead of challenging the 911 Miracle Cross is establish a fund for victims of terrorism all over the world. The charitable nature of such an act would speak for itself as well as highlight in a subtle style what type of damage that radical religious beliefs can cause.

From a public relations standpoint atheists need to be more visible with positive actions and rhetoric that stems from a profound and positive ideology that is all their own. Telling someone that his or her ideas are bad is not presenting alternative concepts.

Atheists who protest in America largely have become the same judgmental, self-righteous, all-knowing do-nothings that they claim to rail against.  It is time for atheism to find a soul. 

My Experience with Erotica Writers on Social Media

As a blogger I have been using social media for almost half of a decade. I have crossed paths with various bloggers who cover different subject matter utilizing various styles.

Lately, I have worked my way in with any number of erotica writers on Twitter. This is interesting to me because although I have written about subjects that do include human sexuality, I have never explored erotica as a genre.

Many of these erotica writers are very talented and produce not only tantalizing tales but also include posts about sexual health, sexually transmitted diseases, and social commentary related to sexuality.

It seems to me, as an outsider on the subject of erotica, that the challenge for many of these authors and bloggers is how to connect with a wider group of potential readers who are not necessarily seeking out sexual stimulation. Many of these potential readers may not realize that the erotica genre encompasses a great deal of information and displays a wealth of writing skills worth perusing.  One of the hurdles attributed to this disconnect is the word “porn.”

It has been said that one man’s music is another man’s noise. Much the same can be said about erotica and pornography.

Erotica to me, in the classic interpretation of Eros in regard to love or desire, is an artistic depiction of human sexuality that celebrates the instinctual sexual attraction we all share. Pornography is a more graphic and in your face (no pun intended) representation of explicit sex acts. It should be worth noting that some people recognize little distinction between erotica and porn.

Andy Warhol once infamously stated that, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Much has been inferred by what he may have meant by this but for me the take away is simple.

We live in a society that represents an odd dichotomy in regard to sex. We both celebrate and suppress sexuality. In this process sexuality becomes more than what it really is. At its core sexuality is just another natural part of life.

We certainly enjoy cooking and trying new recipes to help us enjoy eating.  A little spice here and there adds zest to meals we have eaten a hundred times before. In the same vein sometimes a relationship needs a little zing.

For example, within the context of an adult consensual relationship where trust and respect abound, a woman may enjoy submitting to a bad boy and a man may enjoy the shaky breath of fear coming out of his damsel in distress. For the less adventurous the old fashioned game of the cable guy visiting the lonely wife may be in order. Erotica can help conjure up ideas and fantasies for many couples. Good sex, as they say and I believe that it is true, is largely mental.

Porn may have its place too. Just about everybody at one time or another has checked out porn. My only caution with porn, as with so many other things in life including eating and drinking, is to keep it in moderation. For too many people porn is becoming a replacement for real sex. Just as socially we often tweet people on the other side of the world but may not know the name of our next-door neighbor, technology is providing better and increasingly interactive virtual realities where we can have sex but is also creating a situation where we can forget about how to deal with real human relationships.

My experience with erotica specifically on social media would lead me to believe that the human experience in regard to erotic content should be presented in a creative and positive way.  I believe there are a fair number of potential readers out there who could be brought into the erotica genre never before having considered it.

Again, erotica is not my forte. But to reach fuddy-duddies like me I would recommend these few suggestions.

Keep avatars and bios modest.  If your avatar is a picture of human genitalia I will not follow you. If your bio is an exhibition of four letter words in regard to your sexual exploits I will not follow you.  Many of my followers are professional writers and marketers who do not expect a picture of a woman with a penis jammed into every orifice of her body showing up in my timeline.

Do not lead with posts that are designed to shock. People who are seeking jaw-dropping material will find it on your site if you decide to offer it. The last thing you want to do is scare away a somewhat potentially interested reader.

Appeal to women. A set of breasts crammed into an avatar will attract men but not necessarily the best followers. Where women go men will follow. It doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. My years around the nightclub industry taught me that male review nights attracting women were a lot more fun to work than female review nights attracting men. Women just don’t care about a bunch of horny guys coming out to watch strippers. That is the whole point of Lady’s Night and not Men’s Night. If women are tweeting about you, male followers will also appear and those men will be more interested in your content.

Erotica at its best should enhance the way people enjoy love and sexuality. Erotica should be about people and the human experience. Erotica should put a naughty smile on your face as much as a warm spot in your jeans.

What Does Conservation Mean to You?

What exactly does the term conservation evoke? In this day and age of going green we hear many buzzwords such as renewable energy, waste reduction, and so on. All things considered, including the ground beneath our feet, the world’s resources are much more limited than what many of us realize.

Consider that if the Sun’s size was represented by a basketball, the Earth’s size relative to it would be a tiny pellet about 2.2 millimeters in size. (This is about 0.0866142 inches so we’ll stick with metric for the very small.) Using this scale how far would our little pellet be from the basketball relative to the distance from the Earth to the Sun? I don’t have access to NASA’s resources on this but I would say pretty far. Just kidding. I have an idea.

What would you say? If you placed a basketball on the ground and held a little pellet between your fingers how far would you have to walk away to represent the distance of the Earth from the Sun? 5 feet? 10 feet?

This is a loose comparison but on the scale of our Sun down to the size of a basketball, one inch would equal approximately 91,000 miles. This would put the 2.2-millimeter pellet about 86 feet from the basketball. I have heard similar comparisons with the scale of a foot equaling a million miles meaning that similarly sized spheres would be about 93 feet apart given that the Sun is on average (varying in orbit) about 93 million miles away. 

So, if you can imagine taking a basketball or a bowling ball out to a parking lot, pacing out 93 feet from it, and then setting down a little BB pellet on the ground; that would give you some representation of how we are literally just hanging out there.

Regarding how small our world really is, consider that most people presume that the entire Earth is friendly to human existence and that is not true. If you were dropped in a bathing suit, or in your birthday suit as in the case of some new reality shows, haphazardly anywhere on the Earth most of the places that you would land on you would be dead in no time at all. You would likely be frozen, asphyxiated, or drowned in vast amounts of water if hypothermia didn’t get you first. There are only so many places on Earth that are beach weather friendly.

So, what exactly do we do with what livable space we have on our little pellet? For starters we divide up the land with imaginary lines. Then, after we divide everyone up in these boundaries, we divide up those groups by social class, race, and here it comes, what different things we all believe.

I find it ironic that three of our major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; all pretty much share the same origins in terms of ancient texts and the same holy land but somehow always seem to be at odds. These ancient religious texts were written by men thousands of years ago who didn’t know anything about the world. In fact, our comparison of the Sun to a basketball is far more than they ever imagined. Yet, we are perfectly willing to hate and kill each other over the ancient tenants that they wrote. The same goes for the fighting over the holy land.

The holy land? What exactly is that? Remember that little pellet between your fingers? That’s it. That’s the holy land because it is all we have. Every inch of our Earth is our home and very precious.

If we are lucky in life, 70 or 80 some odd trips around the basketball riding on the little pellet are all we get. This is out of billions of trips the Earth continually makes around the Sun.  Saying that life is short is not a cliché but a monumental understatement.

Maybe instead of worrying so much about what everyone else believes we should realize that we all share an incredible oneness. Every atom in our bodies and every piece of dust in our living room are composed of elements forged in the furnaces of the universe. None of us comes from a better set of elements than anyone else. Genesis is curiously very scientifically prophetic when it states, “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we spent more time helping each other enjoy as many trips around the Sun as possible? That’s what conservation means to me.

Let's Give the Sharks a Break

Is there anything more beautiful than a magnificent animal in its own undisturbed habitat?

The shark probably has been maligned more so than any other creature. I must confess I enjoyed "JAWS" as much as anybody else. There have been countless such movies and stories that have always been a part of pop culture. These stories greatly exaggerate the menacing nature of sharks. Sharks are simply predators in the wild and must be respected because they are dangerous just like a grizzly bear or a wolf. At the same time domestic animals are far more likely than sharks to fatally attack a human being. In fact, farm animals are responsible for more deaths of human beings than sharks.

Sharks are the top predator in the ocean and are the police of the sea.  They contain the sizes of populations of other species to reasonable numbers and rid those same populations of the sick and other threats to that species. Sharks are absolutely vital to oceanic ecosystem.

We as human beings participate in the food chain as much as any animal. Maybe with the exception of salt, pretty much everything we eat was alive or was the product of something that was alive at one time.

Human beings, however, kill for many more reasons other than the need to survive and are often quite wasteful and cruel in the process.

Sharks are now being threatened because of all things, a tasteless soup. Tasteless it is in more ways than one. Humans kill millions of sharks every year because of the enormous demand for shark fins to make shark fin soup. Shark fin is flavorless and its cartilage is chewy. The populations of these wonderful and magnificent animals are being threatened for what amounts to some weird gelatin floating around in broth or something similar.

Shark fin soup, part of Chinese culture for centuries, was a delicacy reserved for the affluent on special occasions. For most of that time only the wealthy Chinese in such places as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore consumed it. The impact on shark populations was minimal.

Now, however, the growing middle class in China and surrounding areas is negatively and severely impacting the fate of the shark. The demand for status in Chinese society has grown and along with it so has the appetite for serving and consuming shark fin soup as a symbol of that new status.

Shark fin soup can be expensive, for example, a bowl of imperial shark fin soup costs possibly upwards of $100. There are less expensive versions of the soup available which only add to the demand.

The reality of the merciless fishing of the shark and the subsequent brutal harvesting of the fins for profit far supersedes the fictional Hollywood depictions of shark attacks. Fishermen often catch the sharks by the dozens or even in the hundreds, saw off their fins and toss the sharks back into the water while the sharks are still alive. The helpless sharks anguish and thrash in the water in shock as they try to figure out what happened to them.

There is a growing awareness in China and Asia as well as other regions about the horrors of shark finning. The basketball star Yao Ming can be credited as being very helpful with encouraging anti-shark finning sentiment. Also to their credit Chinese business leaders, students, and journalists have been very active making shark fin soup no longer fashionable. Likewise a major help to the cause was an important governmental campaign against extravagance that has banned shark fin soup from official banquets. 

Progress around the world against shark finning seems to be slowly gaining momentum as it was recently announced that New Zealand is to ban shark finning in its waters within two years.

Shark finning is still, however, a serious and widespread problem. Needless to say there is also much abhorrent behavior against other animals as well such as whales, elephants, and countless other animals. I was very upset by recent pictures of a rhino that was hit with a tranquilizer dart so that poachers could saw off its horn. The badly injured animal convulsed in agony as rescuers tried to help it.  

Before I get described as an environmentalist or animal rights wacko I will say that the legal hunting of appropriate species in the food-gathering context is not only permissible but also necessary. I have lived in Ohio and have been through other states where deer populations are out of control at certain times. Hunting is necessary to protect the population of deer from disease and starvation. Most of the hunters I know are responsible and careful hunters. They do not maim animals and leave them to suffer. Many hunters will have their kills as a food supply in their basement freezers for months.

What is happening to the sharks for the sake of a quant social token of pride derived from soup is a gluttonous and greedy sinful crime against nature.

The next time you hear the scary shark music in a movie remember this; the real monsters are above the water. Let’s give the sharks a break. 

Imagine This

In the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” the song asks us to imagine that there’s no heaven, no hell below us, and above us only sky with all of the people just living for today.

For me it conjures up an interesting philosophical question. Let’s suppose that some urgent cataclysm was about to befall the Earth. We only had enough time to get about a thousand or so young children to a remote Pacific island that would be the only sanctuary from the impending doom. There would be a mix of races contained in the group; however, none of them would be yet old enough to have any understanding of the world as it exists and there would be no time to leave any information behind.

Boom. The world as we know it with all of recorded history is gone in our hypothetical situation. These children would be left to explore the Earth all over again.

If they were going to survive at all they will need to remake some basic discoveries quickly such as the importance of fresh water and how to make fire.  As the learning of various things such as the building of shelter would progress the basics of geometry and mathematics would undoubtedly be rediscovered. I’m not sure how many generations it would take but one of them sooner or later would wonder what force holds things to the ground. As their curiosity of gravity would persist a new scientist would calculate the formulas and equations of Isaac Newton again.

On the other hand, would any of these children or their descendants find Jesus with no one else around to tell them about Him?  Would any of them find Muhammad? Would they even conceive the notion of a creator? How much importance would they pay to their different skin colors? Would they reconstruct society with different social levels and an importance of a monetary system of some kind?

The developments of nations, strata in society, and the tenants of being rewarded with an afterlife are concepts that have existed since our oldest civilizations and frankly are ones that we have not as yet moved past. Would these children repeat these same ideas?

I would hope that these children would not start worshipping some giant white rock on their island. I would hope that they would recognize that their fate would depend on all of them working together to understand and develop the resources around them for the betterment of mankind.

It follows then that the question that needs to be asked is why don't we? Does the world need to be destroyed for us to come up with some new ideas?

Evolution Didn't Happen. It Is Happening.

Editorial

Recently I have become embroiled in some heated debates on Twitter about the subject of evolution. These recent discussions have brought home to me the fact that many people still cannot or will not accept the concept. Two thousand plus years since Xenophanes became one of the first known people to have used fossils as evidence for a theory of the development of the Earth the debate still rages on.

The debate, or argument in many cases, about evolution typically degrades into the two sides posturing to defend their long held beliefs and perceptions. Typically on one side there are evolution proponents, such as myself, against its detractors who are usually some form of creationist.  

The point I try to make at large is that as a whole there is plenty of evidence that the process of evolution works. The exact history of the ancestry of human beings is a work in progress. The process involves finding agreement as to what exactly the first human being was physiologically, intellectually, and culturally. One of the next and possibly more daunting tasks would be determining the precise linkage of various ancestral creatures that directly lead to the development of that human being. So far the proverbial missing link that would be an undeniable smoking gun to champion the human evolutionary tree has been illusive. By the same token the more we question the more we learn. That is how the process of science works. We never really accept a given concept indefinitely without building upon or possibly modifying it as new information becomes available. The study of aerodynamics did not end with the biplane. New discoveries are being made all the time and are taking us into new and exciting directions.

The evolutional development of new species is a complicated process and takes place over enormous periods of time. This makes the process hard to document and frankly difficult to defend against detractors. My strategy is to illustrate the more recent history of evolution. Evolution after all is not just something that happened in the past. It is an ongoing part of life.

Charles Darwin, when he published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, ushered in a new era of debate about life history that continues to this day. The book presented the notion that populations evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection. Simply put the creatures with the best traits for survival in a given environment are the most likely to continually reproduce. Over time these traits become more refined and specialized.

To me there is no question that Darwin understood the progression of evolution. What he didn’t know, however, is why it worked. We now understand the underlying function of genetics and DNA. This activity occurs in all living organisms and is the basis for biological inheritance.

Human beings have manipulated this process many times albeit a bit unknowingly at first.

Although we cannot be sure exactly how the relationship started, it is likely that about 10,000 years ago as humans established settlements wolves may very well have started hanging around. There were most certainly food scraps and other tasty critters scavenging for the leftovers around the presence of human beings. As time went on it is certainly reasonable to presume that certain wolves became very friendly with their human neighbors.

Let’s imagine that some wolves simply did not have the disposition to live along side human beings, but some did. The more friendly wolves started to be nurtured by man. Over time new generations of wolves started to develop around human beings. The ones best suited for coexistence with man became the most likely to reproduce in this new nurturing environment. It wasn’t long before man probably started taking a liking to the smaller wolves, or the faster wolves, or maybe even the wolves that were cuter. Yes, there is little doubt that dogs descended from wolves and were likely the first animal to be domesticated.

I find it ironic that since cavemen became civilized human beings we have done more to take the wolf out of the dog than we have done to take the caveman out of the man.This is why I get frustrated with people who pluck wild animals out of their environment and claim to have tamed them as pets. As animal companions go there is no competing with domesticated animals that are genetically predisposed for coexistence with man. Some people claim to love their dogs and that the dogs love them back. I believe this is not as crazy as it sounds.  Over thousands of years man has encouraged human traits in the evolution of the modern domestic dog.

In the wild natural selection makes the choices for the development of a species. As the saying goes it is the survival of the fittest. Although as a whole the long-term survival of a species depends largely on its ability to adapt to change. In the case of individual domestic animals it is human selection influencing the development of the animal from one generation to the next. Whether it is from influences in the wild or under the guidance of human intervention ecological forces such as these impacts the genetic process and affects change in the animal. If all types of life had been created in some absolute manner on a very recently formed Earth, as some creationists assert, then these recent types of evolutionary progressions would not work.

We are the first species to recognize the process of evolution. This means that we are also the first species able to determine or guide our own evolutionary destiny.  How are we doing so far?  I find it ironic that since cavemen became civilized human beings we have done more to take the wolf out of the dog than we have done to take the caveman out of the man.  We have smart phones and other fancy gadgets but when it comes right down to it we are still perfectly willing to club each other over the head because we want a certain area of land, appear differently to one another, or have something the other one wants.

Knowing what we know now more than ever we really are whom we choose to be. Are we going to continue to divide up territories and fight over resources or will future generations of human beings take the same care to encourage the best traits and evolve into the same kind of loving and loyal creatures as we most desire from our pets?