Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Go Forth, and Be Gay

I am helping out with our professional blog at the office now that I am back at work, so I have set up a few Google news searches that are emailed to me on a daily basis. Little did I know that I would be overwhelmed with material for my own ranting and raving. One of my terms is "advocacy," and one of my news headlines was this:

"Parents urged to pull children from school on homosexual-advocacy day"

First I made a little face, then I looked at the location, and I thought "I sincerely doubt that Phoenix, or anyone, for that matter, is having a 'homosexual advocacy day.'" What does the even mean? Is the advocacy itself homosexual? If so, are we supposed to drag out our gay behavioral stereotypes and advocate for something while wearing a feather boa and lisping? Or while being erudite in a coffee shop?

But of course not.

"Homosexual Advocacy Day" is actually a
"Day of Silence," (April 17th), a national event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. It aims to "bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment in schools." Furthermore, the mission of the GLSEN is "to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression."


Basically, Christian parents are being urged to keep their kids home from school on this day. Their reasoning is pretty simple: "According to the national coalition challenging the protest, the implicit purpose of Day of Silence is to undermine the belief that homosexuality is immoral."


They believe that events such as the "Day of Silence" are public schools actually promoting homosexuality and teaching kids to be gay, rather than creating a welcoming environment for all kids. And you can't argue with them because they are beginning with a false premise: that you can teach or un-teach homosexuality.

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute is quoted as saying, “While it is appropriate to teach students that tolerance requires that society should treat all with civility, it is not appropriate to teach that tolerance requires students to accept the view that homosexual conduct is moral.”

She should get out her dictionary.

I am not really a fan of the word "tolerance," anyway. Her use of the word "civility" is encouraging, though she kind of destroys it with the second part of her sentence.

It's like saying, "You look nice today. You are going to burn in hell."

Again, it's all part of the delusional "War on Christianity" in which many people feel they are God's Soldiers. Having a day when people are encouraged not to bully and name call is actually censoring Christian students. They don't seem to understand that a "Day if Silence" is not going to turn their straight child gay (sing with me now "Don't it turn my straight child, don't it turn my straight child, don't it turn my straight child gaaaaaaay!" Man. I am old.), but it may help them to understand their peers who are in the GLBT community and get them out of their sheltered bubble.

But that's probably the real problem here.

And you know what? There are private schools for that.

"To Buy is to Give"

Lose weight while sitting on your ass on the couch!
Make money while sitting on your ass on the couch!
Look younger by wearing this creme while sitting on your ass on the couch!

And now, help the less fortunate by...


Yes, the answer to September 11 was: Shop! The answer to the economic crisis is: Shop! And now, we can fight terrorism, recession, AND poverty by: SHOPPING!

Governor Mike Huckabee and The Christian Baldwin are spreading the good news about the Christian Values Network. You sign up, shop through their website, use their credit card, and route money to the cause of your choice. Or, rather, the Christian Cause of Your Choice. A percentage of every Christian Purchase goes to CVN, and CVN gives 50% of that revenue to your designated organization, which must be a registered nonprofit Christian ministry, church or charity.

A quick scan of the website does not tell me what the Christian Values are, which I think would be helpful.

To be fair, which I know is not popular, this is not the only site of its kind. Other groups are raising money in this way, and it's all of the "do nothing and do something" kind of mentality, and I suppose that in some way, it does make sense. You are already going to shop, so why not give something while you do it? After all, I have a cell phone company that gives to progressive causes.

I guess it's the whole mentality that gets to me a little bit. If they really want to help, then any designated nonprofit should be eligible. Otherwise, it's really about expanding the flock, isn't it?

Monday, March 30, 2009

What I Learned on my First Day Out

"Today is the day Liberty died."

See, now, this is the great benefit of getting out and about in the world. Had I not returned to work today, I would not have been on the bus, and I would not have overheard this pronouncement by my bus driver. Today is the day Liberty died.


It it because, on this day in 1282, the Sicilians rebelled against King Charles the First? Or because in 1296, Edward the First sacked Berwick-upon-Tweed? Or maybe because in 1870, on March 30, Texas was readmitted into the Union.

It could be because in 1945, Russian forces invaded Austria. Or in 1972, the Easter Offensive began in the Vietnam War.


It's because The White House forced General Motors to oust its Chief Executive Officer.

Liberty: dead.

Methinks my bus driver is a drama queen.

Or a libertarian.

He thinks that now, the government will tell them how to build cars and what cars to build. Now, the government will install some bureaucrat who does not know anything about cars. And the dominoes of government incursion will continue to fall after that, I suppose. It's like the anti-marriage people saying that if we allow The Gays to get married, then people will want to marry trees and sheep.

Yeah, that's logical.

(and really, so what if someone wants to marry a tree. Or a sheep, if it gives consent.)

Here's the thing: during Mr. Wagoner's 9-year tenure as CEO, GM has suffered tens of billions in losses. GM has taken $17.4 billion in federal, which is all gone, and they want $16.6 billion more. That's taxpayer money, and if you want help from the government, you are going to have to play by some new rules. After all, when I want a loan, I don't get to make the terms. Oh, and I pay my loans back on time and in full.

This is not the death of liberty. Liberty did not die during the last Great Correction that started in 1929. Liberty will not die during this Great Correction. Liberty even managed to stay alive during President Bush's time in office. The government is not going to march into anyone's home and make them buy a Prius or a Zenn. Or marry a tree. This is all very unfortunate, but these companies made their beds, and now they have to lie in them.

Oh, and it happened yesterday, so yesterday was the day Liberty died.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the a word

My “religious” beliefs have not changed much since I was sixteen. I was raised in a Lutheran church; my grandfather is a Lutheran minister. We went to church most every Sunday. I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. I went to “growth group” during the week and youth group events on weekends. Actually, I was pretty involved.

It was a thinking environment. Discussion and learning were encouraged by both my church and my family. My father is a scientist; yay evolution! We were not Missouri or Wisconsin Synod or any of the “deviant” Lutheran sects. We were ALC/LCA, then ELCA Lutherans. My family still is. Somewhere around the age of 16, though, I made some new friends and was exposed to more ideas and other perceptions, and the idea of a patriarchal god started to seem oppressive to me. The concept of “sin” became insulting.

I went through my obligatory angry feminist goddess phase in college and my earth mother spirituality, but I never really believed in the concept of a “god” or “goddess” in a supernatural sense: the idea that there is a being of some sort who is responsible for “it all.” Looking back, I have been an atheist since I was 16, but I really came into it in the past ten years or so. Add in the current religio-political climate in America the rise of fundamentalism all over the world, and my views on the subject have become more solid.

After reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, I realized that I had never actually used the word “atheist” to describe myself. Even to me, with my religious sensibilities, the word had been given a patina of negativity, and, subconsciously, I had not wanted to describe myself as such.

I started to wonder what would happen if I did. What would change? I decided it was important to me to just say it. Not to randomly bring it up, apropos of nothing, but if religion came up, and there were a place for it, I would identify myself as such and see what happened. After all, Christians in this country seem to assume that we are all Christians, and they tend to throw around their Christian beliefs apropos of nothing, and lay that mantle over everyone around them.

It was time for good, nonbelieving people to stand up and say it.

So nothing is different. Just a word. I have not changed. I do not believe in the concept of a supernatural god. I am an atheist.

Monday, March 9, 2009

No blasphemy for me, thanks. I had sacrilege for lunch.

The United Nations wants to make its anti-blasphemy resolution binding on member countries.

That's right! No more free speech, brought to you by an organization acting outside its charter and 57 Muslim countries worried about their god's popularity rating at the international prom.

Can't god just go on hotornot.com like other insecure individuals looking for approval?

Am I alone in finding the concept of blasphemy to be amusing? What kind of all-powerful god cannot stand up to a little healthy criticism? What kind of god needs to go running to daddy when some kid drawing doodles in Scandinavia calls him fat?

Seriously. I don't think Zeus asked to have any laws passed to keep people from talking about how he was a slut behind his back: it's lightning bolt in yer butt, and you are a smoking stain on the road. Thor running to parliament? Nope. Forehead, meet mighty hammer.

Is Allah/Yahweh/Jehovah really so impotent that he can't take care of his own business?

No god of mine would be calling up its legislator if someone called its mother a hamster. There would be divine retribution of a spectacularly interesting kind. Yeah, the kind of retribution where god laughs off the words of puny mortals because, hey, I'm god.

I kid, but it's serious business. Not blasphemy, unless you are on the wrong side of one of these no-blasphemy laws and are killed by your own government for calling Allah a ninny, but this anti-blasphemy resolution. Serious business. I find it the height of irony that the very countries asking for protection for their religion are the countries that deal with blasphemers in the most medieval of ways. This is also the religion whose followers are the first to leap to violence whenever an off color cartoon is printed, as Mr. Hitchens recently pointed out on CNN.

The "Combating Defamation of Religions" resolution is supposedly meant to prevent violence against the religious, no matter what religion, but it seems more like an attempt to extend the Shariah internationally, and let me simply say "Thanks, but no thanks," just like Sarah Palin. Except, I mean it.

Let's think about this for a minute.
Blasphemy: 13th century (that sounds about right)1 a: the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God b: the act of claiming the attributes of deity 2: irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable.

That there definition casts a pretty wide net. How do you decide who to stone? Can you arrest a celebrity judge on a reality contest show if she says someone has nicer hair than Jesus? Can you tar and feather a professional basketball player who speaks about himself in third person and calls himself god? If you just don't seem enthusiastic enough about the sermon, is that blasphemy? Who gets to decide?

The statement reads in part “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.” *ahem* OK. Frequently. And wrongly. Yeah. In fact, no religion gets to say that it is wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism. Even Scientology has its moments, Xenu knows.

How can you defame religion, anyway? I was not aware that religion had a squeaky clean reputation that could be harmed by libel or slander. And isn't religion an institution? I don't remember the lab experiment that made religion sentient.

Our friendly neighbors to the north had some choice words about this resolution:

“Canada rejects the basic premise that religions have rights; human rights belong to human beings.”-Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Go Canada!

She goes on:
“The focus (here) should not be on protecting religions, but rather on protecting the rights of the adherents of religions, including of people belonging to religious minorities, or people who may choose to change their religion, or not to practice religion at all.” (emphasis mine)

Thank you.

I feel like a rousing chorus of "Oh Canada" right about now.

Yay Science!

Today, President Obama lifted the limits on stem cell research. His administration will "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

I haven't heard such good news since this or this.

What's it all about?

Prof Dawkins should be pleased. Not only is my son's stuffed lemur named after him, but I deferred my enjoyment of the premiere America's Next Top Model, Cycle 12, for him.

It's wonderful go somewhere and come home feeling like you might be just a little bit smarter.

(That's not exactly what Top Model does for me.)

This is especially true when you don't get out much because you have a new-ish baby, and because you have a new-ish baby, you are still a little stupid in general.

This past week, I had the surprise opportunity to attend Richard Dawkins' lecture at the University of Minnesota, entitled "The Purpose of Purpose," As PZ Myers put it, "This talk presented an overview of how we should look at the appearance of design in the universe, for a general public."

The house was packed, which was a wonderful thing to see. Being an atheist in America can make you feel isolated, especially during the faux Great Awakening we have been suffering these past years, and when one is surrounded by data showing that America is only ahead of Turkey for public acceptance of evolution, and 63% of Americans believe that "humans and other animals have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a supreme being." Plus, as a bonus, "64% of Americans support teaching creationism alongside evolution in the classroom."

What's a Science Fan to do?

The "Why Question" is one that humans always pose, and Prof. Dawkins suggests that the question of purpose is only sensible when one is considering a machine or an object, but it does not work when you attempt to apply it to something such as The Matterhorn. Purpose has been pondered for ages, and humans usually relate purpose back to themselves, such as the example Prof. Dawkins gave: it was once believed that cattle and sheep were given life in order to keep their meat fresh until we are ready to consume it. Yeah, why not? That meat would be bad in under a week if it were just hanging out in a field without the divine spark.

We laugh at such things now. But which of our divinations of purpose will be laughed at by coming generations?

People are still using objects to illustrate the genius of god's creation, even when that creation has been highly altered by humans, such as the famous case of the banana man (which should, of course, be a mystery novel). I see something like that, a man demonstrating how a banana is perfectly formed for the hand of man, while Kirk Cameron of TV's "Growing Pains" looks on, and am silenced with wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder, eventually followed by the laughter of disbelief, but many, many people see that and nod in all-knowing understanding.

The questions after the lecture were generally rambling and disappointing. One of the questioners exhibited a common problem that believers have when they are confronted with atheists: they cannot comprehend life without a god, or "meaning" without a god. They think that because we don't have a god, we must have replaced him with something, like smoking for alcohol or French fries for smoking. They think that we must be attending the Church of Evolution with Pastor Darwin, everyone in the congregation donning matching white beards, and that we race about, reducing everything we see to its material parts, incapable of wonder and joy. That because we don't have a god, we have no reason to do good, no framework for morals. That because art or music appears to have no evolutionary purpose, it must therefore be useless, and we do not appreciate it. Even love must be alien to us, as we do not have, nor do we want, the love of a god.

But fear of divine judgment does not seem to be a good motivation for doing good. Nor does doing good to get god's attention and approval. Furthermore, it does not seem that More Religion in America has made us more caring, more responsible, more diplomatic, more accepting, or more healthy. In my ethical sensibility, Doing Good and behaving responsibly are societal issues as well as a personal ones: everyone benefits, including me. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

When it comes to a sense of wonder about the natural world, I think it's reductionist to say "god made it." For me, appreciation and a continuing sense of wonder come from a deeper understanding of how things work. Music and art, poetry and literature: these are all human achievements that are deserving of credit to their creator, not to a god or his 33 year old virgin son. It is a wonder that humans have come so far in such a comparatively short period of time and have invented not only progressively more complicated forms of technology for making our lives easier (go figure out that one), and that we have found beautiful ways to express ourselves to other humans.

I still have a sense of purpose, and it's pretty much to take care of myself so that I will be capable of taking care of others. You know the thing they tell you on the airplane: put your oxygen mask on before assisting others? That sums it up pretty well.

p.s. The French Fry should never be a stand in for something else. The French Fry should be loved and appreciated for the beautiful thing that it is.
Maybe not an advert for the tourist brochures for the great state of Wyoming.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An old cartoon

Does anyone remember Guindon?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dust up in the Dust Bowl

(I should have busted this one out for Darwin's birthday, but, well, I didn't. Here it is now, from 2007.)

According to an article on yahoo.com, God and Darwin are to “clash again in Kansas.” (February 13, 2007. “God, Darwin Clash Again in Kansas.”)

I wonder how that would go.

Because, first of all, Darwin was real, and secondly, Darwin is dead.

Perhaps the scientific theory of evolution is coming into conflict with the religious belief in creation by a supernatural god, but God and Darwin are not having some sort of brawl in the midlands.

I would imagine that in a contest between God and Darwin, some ground rules would have to be laid:

1. God is not allowed to smite.
2. The duel will be limited to the exchange of reasoned, logical arguments based on the evidence.
3. God must limit itself to one manifestation: Yahweh, Allah, Thor, and Zeus are not allowed to tag-team the scientist.
4. God is not allowed to say “because I said so” (See number 2).
5. Darwin is not allowed to roll his eyes and scoff.
6. Darwin will refrain from thwacking God on the forehead and reminding him that “god” itself is a creature of evolution, developed by the human mind over tens of thousands of years.

Religious fundamentalists (antiscientifics?) say that “evolution cannot be proven,” and that it is “not in accordance with Biblical teachings regarding the origins of life.” Well now, I would guess that they would get little to no argument on the second assertion. In fact, I quite agree with them. It appears we have some common ground! As far as the first assertion goes, making a claim of improvability for evolution does not make it improvable, and are they offering up their whole “done in seven days” idea to the rigors of “proof?” Because “The Bible says so, and we’re here, aren’t we?” is not proof.

(I can almost picture the annual meeting of these people: antiscientifics sitting around in little hysterical huddles, talking about the load of crap that is global warming, the clever diversion of evolution, and the affront to god and nature that is stem cell research, while they feed mountains of evidence to little campfires, roasting marshmallows, all the while also lamenting the decline of modern American civilization.)

But I digress.

People who accept a book like the Bible as concrete truth purely on its own merits because “God said it” and do not subject their beliefs to rigorous standards do not seem to have the right to request “proof” of anything.