Aug 222014
 

Wow!  Has it really been almost a full year since my last post?  Yes, apparently is has.  Well, I’m posting again, but for the moment only to mention that I’m moving everything on this domain to a new host environment so there might be some disruptions over the next few days.  If all goes well, everything else about the move should be transparent.

 

 

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Aug 292013
 

So a couple of days ago Pat Robertson made the claim that gay men in San Francisco wear special rings they use to spread AIDS when shaking hands.  One would presume there’s some kind of hidden disease-ridden needle involved.  This story stuck in my head because I had a nagging feeling that there was some other story about a ring with special nefarious powers, but I couldn’t quite figure it out… until I remembered that I’m a huge Tolkien geek.  With that realization, parallels had to be drawn, comparisons done, and a horrendous mash-up parody created.

So without further ado, I bring you:

 

What if Pat Robertson was a Lord of the Rings Fan?

Three rings for the lez-beings, tongues all a-sway,
Seven for the “bi” people, swinging both ways,
Nine for the guys who sing YMCA,
One for the drag queen on his gay throne
  in the land of ‘Frisco where the homos play.
 
One ring to prick them all,
Immunity deny them,
One ring to turn them queer,
And then slip in behind them
  in the land of ‘Frisco where the heteros die.

“But wait!” you blurt dismissively, “A real Tolkien fan would have written it in Tengwar scipt!”

Oh yeah?  I got’cher Tengwar right here, buddy!  (I would have tried for the Sindarin translation as well but I don’t think the wood-elves had a word for YMCA.)

tengwar

 

(Yes, I’m aware I haven’t posted anything since sometime in approximately the late Cretaceous.  I’ll try to do better.)

(And no, I did not have to look up the ring poem before writing this.  The original was burned into my brain during my preteen years, and I keep it in a spot where I can still see it in spite of all the clutter that’s accumulated since.)

 

 Posted by at 11:13 pm
Mar 262012
 

I made it to DC yesterday – the first real atheist event I was able to attend was also the largest one in the history of the world, which seems to me like a good start.  My pudgy, far-too-sedentary 40-something body is still angry at me for subjecting it to an early wake-up, two long bus rides, many hours spent standing upright in the rain, and the foolishness of choosing a 24 ounce size when I stopped for coffee at 10 pm to help keep my eyes open for the 30 minute drive home from the train station where I met the bus.

Jen McCreight, Destroyer of ReligionsWhat follows is less a summary of the event or a review of the speeches than a semi-random brain-dump of some of my experiences there in hopes of providing a few snapshots of what the day was like.  The bus I took from Wilmington got to DC a bit early, so I spent a little time amongst a small crowd milling about near a pair of tents set up at the back of the rally area.  Aron Ra and Ed Brayton were there, and PZ and Jen McCreight passed by on occasion; Rebecca Watson was at one point wandering through the crowd interviewing random folks.

During a short conversation among some of the attendees, someone approached one of the people I was chatting with and said, “Richard!  I’m a big fan!”  I had to quietly ask someone nearby if “Richard” was somebody I should recognize, and was informed that the group I’d been talking among included Richard Hatch of the TV show “Survivor” fame.  Modern TV pop culture and I are relative strangers.

I briefly caught up with PZ and his better half as they headed over toward the stage.  I’d brought him a few belemnite fossils (10-tentacled cretaceous squid-like critters – a local state park lets the public collect them from among the spoils piles from the dredging of the C&D canal), and managed to catch him before it got too crowded.  Our conversation was short and amounted to not a whole lot more than “Here, have some fossils” – owing in part to the fact that he was obviously heading somewhere and I didn’t want to delay him, and partly to the fact that I was struck with a sudden fear that I’d say something remarkably stupid to someone I admire.  The latter is unusual for me, because I’m typically perfectly willing to say stupid things to anyone who will take a moment to listen.

One of  the warm-up acts before the main rally sang a song I only heard a few bits of, but included the lyrics “Get on your knees for Jesus till he comes”… and I’ll be scouring Teh Google for links to this song shortly.

Reason Rally 2012 - One Nation IdivisibleThe rally opened with a retired Colonel asking everyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (without “under God”) and a request for current and ex-military among the crowd to recite the oaths they took on enlistment.  I understand the political necessity for this and I’m all for a show of support for those who risk their lives in the armed forces and a recognition of the “foxhole atheists” among us, but I have to say I’m rather uncomfortable with oaths of fealty in general (and the Pledge of Allegiance, Under God version or not, in particular).

Tim Minchin and Jamie Kilstein were the entertainment highlights of the show for me – they made me laugh and made me think.  I missed Eddy Izzard’s bit, and apparently Laurence Krauss as well, because I let myself get sucked into one of the little clusters of debate with the religious counter-protestors along the outskirts – a waste of time, as I should have known it would be, because there was no common frame of reference between us on which to base a discussion.  I was told I did actually believe in God, because there was a passage in the bible somewhere that insisted everyone really does, and since it said so in the bible, it must be true.  When I said “I disagree”, two Christians nearby rolled their eyes and one muttered, “you just can’t talk to these atheists”.

Reason Rally 2012 - The Christians are Coming! Reason Rally 2012 - The Christians are Coming!

The crowd was, well, about as diverse as could be hoped for.  It certainly wasn’t a sausage-fest – the women seemed to be there in numbers equal to the men.  I can’t help but wonder if the recent misogynistic antics of the right wing haven’t inspired more female non-believers to become more active and vocal; if that’s the case, then all of us owe the Teapublicans an odd sort of gratitude.  There were quite a few gay couples as well – at least, there were a number of people who through their signs or interactions made it obvious to even my obtuse, almost non-functional ability to discern such things.  On the racial front, of course, the outlook wasn’t as positive as I’d like it to be.  There were some blacks (we’re all “African Americans”, in the long run) among the crowd, and a smattering of folks who looked to be of Indian or middle-eastern origins, but their numbers certainly weren’t representative of their place within the general population.  I suspect this reflects, in part, the tendency toward more closed communities among these groups where there’s little recourse for expressing skepticism without stepping outside one’s own cultural group, and in part on the atheist movement’s somewhat limited efforts to appeal to those communities.  There are hopeful signs that this is starting to change though, such as American Atheists’ recent billboards in Muslim and Jewish communities, and the presence of black and Hispanic freethought organizations at the rally.

Reason Rally 2012 - Crowd shot #1I don’t yet know for sure if there are official attendance numbers for the rally.  At one point Paul Provenza, the emcee, announced that the Parks service had informed him that they’d “officially exceeded the count at Glenn Beck’s rally” – but he didn’t say which Glenn Beck rally, or what the count was.  Post-rally, hotel-elevator rumors claim the official count to be 25,000, but I’ve yet to see that number reported from any authoritative source  Ed Brayton over at FreeThoughtBlogs estimated 8000-10000.  I don’t feel remotely qualified to judge for myself based on my vantage point on the ground within the crowd.  It’s also hard to estimate how many potential attendees stayed home because of the weather; when I bought my ticket on the charter bus, I got seat number 37 of 40 available – but there were only around 20 people who actually rode in on the bus.  (I understand that a few of them dropped out of the bus trip in favor of riding down with a number of carpools that were also being organized.)

Reason Rally 2012 - Crowd shot #2 Reason Rally 2012 - Crowd shot #3

The Westboro Batshits were there as well, and I wear it as a badge of honor that I participated in some small way in an event that threatened their worldview enough that they felt the need to show up.  I hope that sometime during my short tenure here I can accomplish something so utterly awesome that they’re inspired to show up and picket my personal funeral when I’m gone.

Religious members of my extended family will be happy to know that I found Jesus this weekend.  Twice, in fact.

Reason Rally 2012 - Dino JesusReason Rally 2012 - Jesus is good without God

Reason Rally 2012 - Jesus on a stick

This wasn’t a sign-heavy rally, but signs there were, and every single one of them I saw featured proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation, unlike at certain other rallies that have received more media attention over the last few years.  This is a small sampling – there were many I didn’t see in person and a few I wasn’t able to get photos of – like the one that said “At least it’s not raining Santorum!”

Reason Rally 2012 - FSM SignReason Rally 2012 - Worship the Penis

Reason Rally 2012 - GodReason Rally 2012 - Sheep

Reason Rally 2012 - More FSM

Was the rally a success?  Absolutely.  Many times as I walked through the crowd I heard statements like, “It’s good to see there are so many people like me” and “I had no idea there were so many atheists near where I live!”  Even if the Reason Rally achieves no other goal, it has shown tens of thousands of non-believers that they are most definitely not alone.

One final thought:

I stood for a while next to a person who had used his phone to post on social sites about his arrival at the rally.  Shortly thereafter, he said, “Uh-oh, I think I just came out to my mother on Facebook.”  He spent much of the day shaking his head at the angry replies which followed and ignoring phone calls from relatives.  That a grown man with adult children has to worry about his family’s reactions to the news that he questions stories about talking snakes and virgin births strikes me as one of many illustrations of why we need events like the Reason Rally, and why we can stop at nothing short of total acceptance.

 

 Posted by at 2:17 am
Mar 032012
 

“[E]ach ‘egg person’ and each ‘sperm person’ should be deemed equal in the eyes of the government and be subject to the same laws and regulations as any other dependent minor and be protected against abuse, neglect or abandonment by the parent or guardian

says the measure passed 8-4 by the Wilmington, Delaware city council yesterday. It continues:

[…] any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child

When Rick Santorum heard about it, he got so excited he inadvertently violated it.

Sorry, Frothy, but it’s not a real law. Nor was it backed by your fundie crackpot supporters. Rather, it was a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Loretta Walsh as a mocking rebuke of the current national anti-contraception fervor, along the same lines as the attempted “mandatory rectal exam” amendment to Virginia’s proposed State Rape law. Only this one passed.

Kudos to the City Council! It almost makes me not mind the city wage tax I had to pay for years for the privilege of working downtown.

Almost every blogger who reports on this story will make the obvious connection and link to the obvious video. So, obviously, I will too.

 Posted by at 8:16 pm
Jan 122012
 

Here in the tiny state of Delaware we have an interesting microcosm of the country. The northernmost of our three counties, New Castle County, is one big suburb wrapped around the city of Wilmington. Newark is home to a university, and Wilmington is a center of banking and business with lots of Fortune 500 companies incorporated there. It’s where most of the population is concentrated, and it’s a fairly liberal-leaning, democrat-voting region.

Kent County, in the middle, is the home of the state capitol, a prominent air force base, and a NASCAR track, with a mixed population of suburbanites, rural folks, and even a few Amish – it makes for a varied cultural mix where you can never make a safe assumption about the political or religious leanings of the guy stuck in traffic on Rt 13 next to you.

And then there’s Sussex. With the exception of a narrow strip of wealthy resort area along the coast where the high gay population has helped drag the place a bit leftward and tone down the religiosity just a little, you could rip Sussex up and drop it someplace in the deep south without many people noticing until they started laughing at the signs for Assawoman. It’s a God-fearin’, pickup-truck-drivin’ region where they listen to both kinds of music. It’s been the site of school prayer controversy in the recent past, and it’s the mystical source of Christine O’Donnell’s eldritch powers.

Today the state’s main newspaper reported on “weighty issues” brought up by a lawsuit filed down there. It seems that for over 40 years the County Council has been opening their meetings by saying the Lord’s Prayer, and a few residents have challenged them on it, claiming it violates church-state separation. No, say its defenders, it’s perfectly okay, because it’s not a Christian prayer.

Picard Facepalm

Really? They’re reciting it at the mosques these days, are they? Widely used to open meetings in the Punjab region of India, is it? The Wiccans have taken it up, have they? (Oh yeah – O’Donnell. I guess you have a point on that last one.)

The simple fix for this, the one that wouldn’t waste any tax dollars on legal battles, would be to replace the opening prayer with a moment of silence during which individuals can beg for the blessings of whichever version of whichever fantasy character they choose. If your faith loses value when you can’t put it on parade, you don’t have a religion, you have a public relations strategy. And I’m pretty sure the Divine Zombie himself left specific instructions not to do it that way.

 Posted by at 11:57 pm
Jan 112012
 

Helen Ukpabio, witch hunter?New Humanist magazine is reporting that prominent Nigerian preacher Helen Ukpabio is coming to America to share God’s message that if your life isn’t perfect, there’s probably a child you can torture to make it better. During her 12 days in Texas, she’ll explain how everything from poor health to lack of promotions at work to bad dreams are the result of curses from young witches (perhaps possessed by mermaid spirits!), and the cure is just a few Old Testament solutions away.

Ariel will make your children kill you

Ariel will make your children kill you!

Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church is a leading and growing voice in the advocacy of the child-witch-hunting movement in Africa. With branches in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Cameroon, she and her organization spread the Gospel of Flaming Children through books, sermons, and films, including a movie called “End of The Wicked” which depicts children killing and eating their parents. They’ve been instrumental in whipping up the hysteria that has lead to what UNICEF estimates to be 20,000 children who are homeless in Nigeria alone as a direct result of being cast out by families who believe them to be possessed.  It’s not all bad, though:  if your son’s magic has caused that mole on your chin to grow a little larger but you’re not ready to kick him out of the house or kill him outright, you might be able to find a pastor who, for a small fee, will exorcise the evil spirits by setting fire to the child or pouring acid into one or more orifices. Other options include in-church imprisonment and torture, forced drinking of hallucinogens or poison, and live burial.

An evil warlock, cured!

This evil warlock confessed his sins before the righteous fire consumed him.

To those who might be tempted to think, “that can’t happen here”, I say:  Bullshit.  The very fact that someone feels the need to say “it can’t happen here” is almost always a sign that it’s already started happening.  Plenty of Americans believe in demonic possession; you can find a dozen of them commenting on almost any article about Obama on the web.  Ukpabio is speaking in the country that spawned the Westboro Baptists, in a place that recently held a state-wide rain dance festival voodoo ritual prayer for rain.  Children still die far too often in the US from abuse or neglect by well-meaning parents who thought they were doing God’s will and everything would work out fine if they were just pious enough; is there really much of a jump from there to witch hunts?

A “Stand Against Helen Ukpabio” page has been created on Facebook to help organize protests against her visit.

 Posted by at 6:06 pm
Jan 052012
 

In the wake of Rick Santorum’s almost-win in the Iowa caucuses – an anomaly I chalk up to the timing of his turn as non-Romney-of-the-week – several videos gone viral have stirred up controversy over the statement by this small-government, personal-freedom conservative that states should have the right to outlaw the use of birth control.  In an October interview, he said:  “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.”

 

At first I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.  Dangers of contraception?  As a pro-sex liberal heathen (e.g. evil) I had trouble understanding this statement until I tried to think about it from a godly, moral (e.g. good) perspective.  Once I shifted my point of view, it all became clear!  So, since everybody seems to like lists these days, I present to you:

Rick Santorum’s Top Five Dangers of Contraception

(If Rick Santorum were me, pretending to be Rick Santorum)

5. Condoms are often lubricated, and for me, the fewer Google searches on “lubricant”, the better.

4. Limited access to birth control means even more abortions to get my base riled up about!  Yay!

3. We need to produce lots of low-wage menial laborers to support the coming free-market utopia, so have more babies!

2. Just because God gave us sexual urges and genitalia doesn’t mean it’s okay to do anything with them.  Wait – maybe he gave them to us as test, and the baby Jesus cries when we have unwed non-reproductive intercourse in unapproved positions.  Or maybe Satan gave us sexual urges, and God just let him get away with it.  Either way, sex is bad.

.. and the number one reason why birth control is a threat to civilization:

1. Letting women choose when or if they get pregnant sets us careening down that slippery slope that ends in a society of uppity, non-submissive females.  Mark my words – if we give these bitches the pill, next thing you know they’ll be wanting rights and careers and equality!  As President I, Rick Santorum, will not stand idly in the face of such obscenities.

Before I took off my Santorum hat, just to be thorough, I tried to think of arguments from within the Conservaverse for contraception, and while I only came up with one, it’s a doozy.  It just might be enough to override one through five above!

Rick Santorum’s Top Reason For Contraception

(If Rick Santorum were me, etc.)

1.  Sometimes babies grow up to be gay.

The really disturbing thing about all this is, of course, the image conjured up by the phrase “Santorum Hat”.

 Posted by at 9:48 pm
Dec 292011
 

Lately I’ve been trying to make a little side income writing at Infobarrel – it’s one of those revenue-sharing sites where you help provide decent content to earn search engine love for the site overall, and they let you share some ad space on their pages to earn a little cash.  I’m not very good at it so far because I’m constitutionally incapable of cranking out volumes of keyword-targeted product-centric fluff pieces, but overall I’ve found the community there to be friendly and helpful – a bunch of nice people trying to eek out a little extra from the InterTubes.

Yesterday I posted my first article there about atheism.  I don’t know if it will even get noticed, but I’m curious what the reaction there will be if it does.  A number of the IB regulars have openly expressed strong religious leanings, so it will be interesting to see what kind of reactions I get.  It’s nothing that should be too controversial – just a brief discussion of the misconception that atheists think the divine has been disproved, and an overview of the “Dawkins scale” of disbelief – but often it doesn’t take much to get people riled up.

 

 Posted by at 3:39 pm
Dec 282011
 

I just read Chris Brodda’s latest post over on FTB about the irony of working on a Christmas gift drive through the Military Religious Freedom Foundation while that organization is being vehemently criticized for ruining Christmas by, for example, trying to destroy the “Operation Christmas Child” drive by the Air Force.  But of course the MRFF did no such thing; they simply stated that it was inappropriate for secular military officers to be officially promoting a faith-based program and that it should be put under the auspices of the chaplain service – which it was.

Tis the season

'Tis the Season

This is all part-and-parcel of the annual “War On Christmas” meme that’s blasted from countless media outlets every year starting just a few weeks before the traditional bombardment of Christmas music and store Christmas displays gets underway.  (That puts it, I’m thinking, sometime in mid-September at this point.)  It seems that the War On Christmas is now being fought with a sinister biological agent, though – one which spreads highly contagious Christian Persecution Syndrome among believers who encounter those already infected.  Because each holiday season, it seems to me, there are more controversies centered around church/state separation issues, and nearly always these stories are framed as incidents of whiny non-believers attacking the rights of Christians.

Often these controversies occur simply because Christians are denied, for one reason or another, the exclusivity or near-exclusivity to which they’re accustomed.  A prime example this year was the Christmas display in Santa Monica, California, where atheist groups won all but two of the spots in an annual Christmas display lottery through the simple expedient of having submitted more entries.  It’s unfair to be suppressed based on a numerical advantage, say believers there, who next year when most or all of the displays are again nativity scenes will brag about their victory over the heathen because of their numerical advantage.

lights at Travis AFB

from Rock Beyond Belief

But sometimes it’s about the rights of atheists to put up any display at all, and these times are why it’s critical that every potential violation of church-state separation is challenged.  The Rock Beyond Belief blog has chronicled the attempts to add a non-religious display to a series of religious ones at Travis Air Force Base.  It was denied before complaints got it approved, censored before complaints got it uncensored, dimly lit until complaints got it lit up (along with the Jewish and other displays), and vandalized multiple times.

These battles aren’t just limited to holiday season arguments over Christmas displays, of course.  There’s also the annual “National Day of Prayer” where groups try to prevent the use of our tax dollars to pay for a state-sponsored prayer event, or Rick Perry’s local Texas rain dance day of prayer for rain (which seems to have caused his state to catch fire, as Bill Maher pointed out – though luckily God finally got around to sending some drought-easing rainfall the same weekend the big atheist convention came to town).  There’s the Camp Pendleton Cross and there’s the Tennessee mayor who called the Freedom From Religion Foundation terrorists for expressing opposition to a town-sponsored cross mounted atop a water tower.

All of these cases have two things in common:

  • Each of them involve government funding and/or use of government land in what is perceived by the atheist groups involved to be a violation of First Amendment rights through the exclusion or limitation of expression of some religious viewpoints in relation to others.
  • Each of them has been portrayed as a further attempt to unjustly persecute the Christian majority.

What I haven’t seen, though, is any instance of real censorship or persecution here in the US, by which I mean removal of rights outside the sphere of Separation.  Where are the attempts to silence Christian speech, privately or publicly, outside the purview of fighting perceived government endorsement of said speech?  Note that I’m not claiming this never happens; atheists can be overzealous and just plain wrong sometimes, just like anybody else.  There probably are real examples out there.  I just haven’t seen them, and haven’t the patience to Google “Christian persecution” and wade through the results.

I thought I’d maybe caught an example earlier this year when I read about the military cemetery that allegedly was prohibiting non-pre-approved prayer at soldiers’ funerals – it sounded suspicious, but I was willing to entertain the possibility that some anal-retentive bureaucrat somewhere was trying to implement an overzealous interpretation of the rules.  Of course, when the facts of the story were presented outside the evangelical echo chamber, it turned out that what really happened was that a group was showing up uninvited at soldiers’ funerals to utter Christian prayers whether the families wanted them or not, and they were told to knock it the hell off already.  If Odin worshipers got chased away from a funeral procession for singing a dirge to open the gates of Valhalla for a fallen warrior, the controversy would be centered around why the government failed to block their entrance to the facilities in the first place.

So what I’m trying to get at, in a long-winded and roundabout way, is this:  I’d like to find some of the real examples of atheists trying to erect barriers to the free expression of religion where there is not a church-state separation issue.  So please, if you’re actually reading this and not a search engine process or a viagra-selling spambot from a .RU domain:  if you know of a real instance of persecution against Christians by atheists or government institutions, add a comment below with a supporting link or two.  I ask this because I truly believe that everyone should have the right to subscribe to whatever theology they want (no matter how wrong or silly it is), and because I believe that the atheist community is best served when it’s willing to call out its own and say, “Hey, I think you’re doing it wrong.”

A few handy notes for CPS sufferers who might take up this challenge:

  • When I say “not a church-state separation issue” I mean that there is no argument to be made that public lands, public facilities, or public funding are being used to promote a religious stance.  Stopping official organized prayer in a public school is, by my definition, acceptable.  Stopping individuals from saying private prayers on school grounds is not.
  • Disagreement with the tenants of your religion is not censorship.  “I don’t think so” is not going to harm anything but your ego.

Alright, you’ve got your marching orders.  Now go forth, and find me some persecution!

 

 Posted by at 9:27 pm
Dec 162011
 

The long expected but still surprising news broke overnight of Christopher Hitchens’ death in the wake of his struggle against esophageal cancer.  His final column published in last week’s Vanity Fair was about the absurdity of the phrase “that which does not kill you only makes you stronger”.  Maybe that phrase isn’t true, but that fact that he was writing about it a week before his death showed that even cancer hadn’t sapped away all his strength.

I disagreed with Hitch on a variety of issues – his support for the Iraq war, for instance – but even where I thought he was wrong I admired his wit and eloquence in arguing his points.  Even when he was debating with an unlit cigarette in his hand, clearly thinking about his next nicotine fix, or he was oozing Johny Walker out every pore, he was an intellectual powerhouse.  His willingness to tackle taboo issues should make his career a case study at journalism schools.  He took on MotherTheresa, Gandhi, and religion in general fervently and fearlessly.

The man who famously said of Jerry Falwell that “if they gave the corpse an enema they could bury him in a matchbox” will no doubt be on the receiving end of faux sadness from some of his detractors (“it’s a shame he’s in hell now”) and exuberance from the “Yay, God of Love, for making the infidel suffer for all eternity” crowd.

Hitch may be gone, but the Hitchslap lives on.

 Posted by at 3:54 pm