James Randi on God

Here is a very interesting column by professional skeptic James Randi on the cruelty of “God”. Based on the case of an Oregon teenager whose Christian fundamentalist parents let him die a very painful death, rather than take him to a doctor, the column explores similar themes as those that I touched a couple of weeks ago in my On God posting. Basically, what kind of God would let people die painful deaths and do nothing?
From the column:

I am inclined, when hearing about a story like this, to utter the phrase, “What kind of person…?”, but when reading about this one, I instead thought, “What kind of God…?” I’m talking to you, Followers of Christ of Oregon City. I want to know, truly, what kind of God wouldn’t want a person to get better. I want to hear, at length, about exactly what kind of God wants people to die in pain. And, before you tell me that this is not God’s fault, but the devil’s, let me go ahead and say –
It makes exponentially more sense to side with the devil, over and over again, to put your faith in him and believe in him and trust in him, than it does to believe in the kind of God who has the ability to save you and chooses not to do so.
To keep up this fictional argument, I do not want to hear about how death isn’t really so bad and God is just calling us all home. Opioid pain medication was not invented because death is such a peaceful journey into the arms of Christ.
Followers of Christ of Oregon City – this one goes out to you. Your God is a sadist and a torturer. And if He really attempted to make you in His image, then he has done a fine job. Because so are you.

Interview with the daughter of a torturer

I just published in our Project Disappeared blog an interview with Analía Verónica, the daughter of accused torturer Eduardo Kalinec. The interview is in Spanish. One of the issues she touches on is the impossibility of reconciling a man who was sweet and loving to her, and a monster on his day job. “It’s very hard to know that my father held a picana with the same hands with which he touched me”. A picana is an instrument that delivers electricity, similar to a cattle prod, but which allows the torturer some degree of control as to the voltage applied. The picana, developed my the Argentine police, was the favorite instrument of torture in Argentina.
Analías words touched me because I also have problems reconciling memories of people who seemed so nice and gentle to me, but who might directly or indirectly been involved in the repression. Among this is an uncle, a very soft and sweet man, who was pediatrician for the Argentine Navy during the repression. As a pediatrician it’s unlikely that he participated in the repression, but he could not have not known what was happening and yet he stayed in the institution. Of course, he never talked about it – but he did want to make sure that his connection to me wasn’t made public 🙂
Another person was the father of an elementary school mate – a police officer. His name doesn’t appear in any lists, so I don’t have strong bases to conclude that he was involved in the repression – but then again, the lists are utterly incomplete. The names in them are those of people who were identified by the survivors – but the disappeared were usually kept hooded so they couldn’t see their tormentors. This man, in particular, was really nice and I loved going to my friend’s house to play after school – but I remember a few things about him that make me suspicious.
In a greater sense, I have real problems reconciling a childhood that was quite pleasant all in all, with the horrors that were going on around me – of which I only learned after democracy had returned to Argentina (when I was 14). I’ve gone back on my memory to trying to look for clues of what had been going on. I remember, for example, that pink house close to ours in City Bell. The house was perhaps a hundred meters away. Nobody occupied it throughout all the time we owned our country house – nobody even visited it. For some reason, my parents forbade us to go there – and we mostly obeyed. I remember going there once, however, looking through a window and seeing a mess of clothing and objects all over the floor. I don’t think we tried the door. Today I wonder if its owners were disappeared.
In any case, the interview is in Spanish, but it’s well worth reading.

The thrill of the chase

googlesearch.jpgIf you follow my blog, instead of just coming here looking for some info on thalidomide or on Che Guevara’s death (the two most popular searches that lead to my site), you will have noticed that lately, I’ve been sort of obsessed with buying my children more and more craft kits. I have justified this to myself as my wanting to find things that I can do with the children that I would enjoy as well. But I’ve noticed that while I eagerly await the packages to come and I’m excited as I open them, I’m much less eager to start using them. I tell myself that I need to have the room, or the house, clean for me to feel OK doing something other than cleaning or working (or looking for more craft kits online!), but in reality, doing these crafts is not that much fun. Camila always wants to do everything by herself, and loses interest when she can’t – and Mika will go into grumpy mode if she’s not perfect at what she does. So why do I continue looking for more kits?
Well, Slate, the online magazine, has the answer. It appears (and I’d have to read the article again to get all the facts/science right) that when we are seeking something, whatever it is, the dopamine system on our brain is stimulated – we are flooded with dopamine. Apparently all that dopamine makes us feel very good, so good that people take drugs like cocaine and amphetamines to stimulate the system. The dopamine itself makes us feel eager and purposeful. So what’s not to love?
Well, apparently (and I’m a good example of that), this system has no mechanism to make us feel satiated, the more we do it, the more we want to do it – and moreover, the smaller and more umpredictable the “rewards” are, the more the system is stimulated, making us want more and seek more. With these mechanics, it’s no wonder that we are so addicted to google, facebook and twitter (Salon has a very good article on a twitter addiction) – which provide us with the feeling of the chase by entering a search term or pressing “reload” in our browser. In my case, of course, I’m addicted to searching for craft kits at Amazon (though I’ll branch out elsewhere to look for lower prices).
My addiction for craft kits is not, as you can expect, my only one. I’m also into posting and re-loading a food bulletin board and into looking for recipes for my epicurious or allrecipes for a recipe that uses some specific ingredient that’s on sale or I have at home. I spend an awfully large amount of time doing all three 🙁
At least, now, I understand it – what I need to do now is to find ways to stimulate my dopamine system which are useful to me or others.

Don’t give up – by Mario Benedetti

Here is a beautiful poem by Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, who passed away only a couple of days ago. As I enter my 40’s, I can’t but look look with disappointment at all the roads not taken, all the things not done, and wonder if it’s not too late for me. I know other friends have the same concerns. So here is this poem. I’m sure there is an official translation somewhere, but I haven’t found it. I’m a terrible translator, but I hope I can convey the gist.
Don’t Give Up
by Mario Benedetti
Don’t give up, you still have time
to reach up and start anew,
Accept your shadows,
Bury your fears,
Free your burdens,
Fly again.
Don’t give up, that’s what life is
Continue the journey,
Follow your dreams,
Unstuck time,
Move the rubble,
And uncover the sky.
Don’t give up, please don’t give way,
Even if the cold burns,
Even if fear bites,
Even if the sun sets,
And the wind goes silent,
There is still fire in your soul
There is still life in your dreams.
Because life is yours and yours is the desire
Because you have loved it and because I love you
Because wine exists and love is true.
Because there are no wounds that time doesn’t cure.
To open the doors,
Take away the locks,
Abandon the walls that have protected you,
To live life and accept the challenge
Get back laughter,
Practice a song,
Lower the guard and extend the hands
Open the wings
And try again,
Celebrate life and take back the skies.
Don’t give up, please don’t give way,
Even if the cold burns,
Even if fear bites,
Even if the sun sets,
And the wind goes silent,
There is still fire in your soul
There is still life in your dreams.
Because every day is a new beginning,
Because this is the hour and the best moment.
Because you are not alone, because I love you.

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