Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Breaking the Spell

Several years ago, I read both The God Delusion, and God is Not Great, by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens respectively.  At the time, I did not know that those two authors, because those books, were regarded as part of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, otherwise known as the New Atheists (or Gnu Atheists, because it is different).  The other two Horsemen are Sam Harris for The End of Failth, and Dan Dennett for Breaking the Spell.

Breaking the Spell is subtitled, "Religion as Natural Phenomenon."  Basically, Dennett argues that religion is nothing more than a byproduct of the growth of human beings.  Religion is really nothing more than a byproduct of cultural evolution rather than a supernatural force.  The Breaking the Spell comes from the fact that, until recently, talking about how religion is false is taboo and that, out of respect for religion, we should not burst the faithful's bubble, or, break their spell.

Dennett is a philosopher, and I did find comprehension of many parts of the book to be tough going, but, if you take the time to really comprehend what you are reading, the arguments are clear and concise.  He takes you through a journey of psychological, anthropological, and cultural research on what is religion, how it came to be, and how it continues to hold value for some many.

One of the many fascinating discussions in the book as to do with belief in God versus belief in the belief in God and how those differ and how important they are to hold of religion on so many.

If you are interested in understanding theories of how religion came to be and how it continues its grasp on billions of people, then you will want to read this book.  Dennett is not afraid of asking questions that will make most people of faith quite squeamish to hear the answer to.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Did I Do That?

A few days ago, Cheesehead posted a blog about haboobs.  In it, she mentioned a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic and his offense of the word haboob.  Then yesterday, there was an article in the NY Times about the same letter.  I was also perusing Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World video from Current TV and thought, "Hey, this guy is a candidate for worst person."  So, I sent an email to Countdown with a link to the article.  Guess who the the Bronze Medal recipient was for Worst Person?  Yep.  I'd like to think I influenced that segment, but it could very well have been coincidence as well.  At any rate, a deserving recipient.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I've Run Out of Names

I don't know what to call the Republican Party anymore.  Crazy.  Idiotic.  Batshit insane.  I just can't fathom the fact that about 85 or so freshman legislators in the House of Representatives are holding not only the US economy hostage, but perhaps the World economy as well.  Not to mention the rock solid foundation that has always been the United States Treasury.  For what reason?  None.  Really.  There is absolutely no reason to carry this gambit any further.  I really hope it is a bluff, but these ideologues are dangerous, and may very well succeed in what the 9/11 terrorist attacks couldn't.  Completely destabilize the country and bring about economic chaos.

If anything, in a time of high unemployment and a sputtering economy, more spending is what is needed, strategic tax breaks are needed, and I'm not talking about lowering income rates, I'm talking about payroll tax holidays.  Short term things to put money into peoples pockets so they can spend.  Instead, the Republicans want to take money out of the economy and cause a default and economic crisis.  All for money that they already appropriated.  It is absolutely crazy, and anybody who agrees with it is mis-informed. 

Boner, yes, I'm going there, because his stewardship of the House of Representatives can be called nothing less.  Boner walked out on the debt negotiations, and an angry President Obama held a press conference not 30 minutes later and threw not only Boner's ass under the bus, but the entire Republican majority of the House of Representatives.  Finally!  You could tell Obama was hot and he was kicking ass.  Unfortunately, the Republican caucus has been completely blind to the polls where a strong majority of the country is placing the blame squarely on them.  Wall Street and business leaders, usually parked in the middle of the Republican camp, went to the House to talk to these people.  Wealthy Republicans have said they are willing to pay a bit more.  But these yahoos are determined to steer us to economic chaos.

Even channeling Ronald Reagan and the threat of default has done little to sway these idiot's minds.  Boner has lost his job.  He is in a lose-lose situation.  He may as well go out in a blaze of glory and do the right thing.  Twist the arm of his caucus until they break to raise the debt ceiling in a clean bill.  No strings attached.  I don't have high hopes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Debt Ceiling, Balanced Budget Amendment, and Ronald Reagan's Ass

It is frightfully obvious to me, based on some of the recent comments in social media circles, that many people do not understand what the Debt Ceiling (or Limit) really is.  The Constitution grants power to Congress to appropriate funds to run the country.  The political process by which this is done has become very convoluted over the years, but basically, appropriations bills passed by Congress are basically telling the Executive Branch to spend the money.  If the money is not readily available, then the US Government sells bonds to raise the money.  After a certain amount of time, the US Government must pay back that money.  In this case, we have been borrowing a heckuva lot of money and the bills are coming due on a daily basis.  The Debt Ceiling basically restricts how much we can pay back to those we have already borrowed money from.  It has NOTHING to do with future spending.  This is simply paying back the money that the government has already agreed to spend.  It's like you borrowing money to buy a car.  Once you have committed to buying the car, you are obligated to pay the money back according to the terms of your loan. Failure to do so results in a default.  In the case of a car, it will get repo'd (and then you can appear on a game show).  In the case of a government, you default, and you leave a lot of people very angry for not paying your bills and less likely to loan money to you in the future when you will really need it.

So, to recap, the debt ceiling is about meeting our obligations for money we have already spent as a nation and has nothing to do with future spending.  These should be two separate arguments, but Republicans decided to be asses about it this time around because Obama is President.  They didn't give a shit about raising it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, when Bush was President and he ran two wars "off" budget.  The Treasury still had to borrow the money however.

There are those who argue that the debt ceiling should be abolished all together.   Why?  Because Congress has already approved the spending of that money, why should they have to approve spending that money again?  Second, it is very likely unconstitutional.  The Fourteenth Amendment states,
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Former President Bill Clinton has states that he thinks Obama should stop playing games with the Republicans and simply order the Treasury to continue to pay the bills as directed by the Fourteenth Amendment in which the public debt shall not be questioned

Ronald Reagan.  Yes, Ronald fucking Reagan, begged for Congress to increase the debt limit when he was President citing unknown dire consequences if they did not.  This is the same Ronald fucking Reagan that Republicans worship and would ass kiss 'til the cows come home.  Even the homophobic ones!  (That's pretty much all of them, right?)

Also, in the case of current economy, the United States should be spending MORE money on a job stimulus.  What happens when you put people back to work?  Well, you pay less unemployment compensation and you bring in more revenue for payroll taxes and income taxes.  Duh.

The Republicans are also making a big deal of the Balanced Budget Amendment, which is another asinine idea of theirs.  Yes, it is populist.  Why should the government not live within its means like we all do?  But we don't.  How much do you own on  your house, your car, student loans?  Do you have the case on hand to pay for that today?  No, you don't.  Therefore,  you are in violation of your own Balanced Budget Amendment.  Our economy functions on credit and debt.  Large capital purchases are not possible without this.  Also, if the Government is forced into a BBA, then what do we do when a natural disaster hits, like Katrina, or the Big One is California?  What if we have to fight another war?  What if we have to stimulate the economy as a result of the next recession?  Then what?  Restricting the ability of the US Government to borrow money above and beyond its budget is absolutely critical to national survival, stability, and security.  To pass a BBA, no matter how populist, would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.  But then, we are talking about the Republicans here, so who the fuck knows that idiotic shit them come up with next.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on TAM9 - Advancing Skepticism Online

I attended my first TAM this year, and I have to say it was a blast.  I will plan to do several posts on it over the course of this week.  Day 1 is mostly optional workshops on a whole array of subjects such as Defending Evolution in the Classroom (mostly NCSE panelists), Problems in Paranormal Investigations, Skepticism in the Classroom, and Advancing Skepticism Online.  The workshops were an additional fee and based on my flight schedule and my blog, I signed up for the latter.  The panel consisted of Brian Dunning who does the Skeptoid podcast.  Tim Farley who blogs on technical matters at Skeptical Software Tools.   Robynn "Swoopy"  McCarthy & Dered Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast.  Cristina Rad of OMGZitsCriss YouTube Channel, and Maria Myrback, who is the JREF Blog coordinator.

In all fairness, I have been up to my eyeballs in the more science driven blogs and atheist blogs and have not really paid a lot of attention to the skeptic blogosphere, so the only one on the panel I had heard about was Cristina, and only because there was a donation drive to fly her in from Romania.  Good thing to, because she was probably the most authentic and sincere one in the bunch.

Dunning turned me off right away.  He basically whined about how much work a podcast is, how he has less time with the family, and if he had it to do over, he might not do it.  he also blatantly said not to start a blog.  Wonderfully supportive!  He was also adamant that you should be on a regular schedule.  Jen McCreight had a good tweet in response to that,
A slightly unpredictable schedule keeps people interested, because they're waiting for something to show up. Basic learning theory.
Dunning also said that it shouldn't be hobby or something to that effect.  I'm not sure because I already tuned him out.  I won't be checking out Skeptoid anytime soon.

Swoopy made a comment that if you want your blog to be really popular, you should strive for G-rated, or maybe just PG rated.  Hearing that, and noting that PZ Myers was in the audience, I couldn't help but wonder what his opinion on that comment was.  I tweeted something in response to Jen about what PZ would think of that.  Sure enough, no more than 5 seconds after hitting send, PZ stood up, made a comment about something else, then said, "As for the G-rated thing.  Fuck that!"  Nice!  PZ only has one of the most popular blogs around.  You don't need to be clean to be popular.  I think Cristina nailed it though when said that it was important to just be authentic and also that your goal should not be to become popular.  It certainly wasn't hers.  Your passion and authenticity will attract viewers and readers, and from that, you will gain popularity.  Swoopy echoed that sentiment as well.  Well said!  I relayed this part to Cheesehead who felt the need to blog about her blogging experience and she is absolutely right with respect to authenticity and self-censorship when you feel it is necessary, but ultimately, that is the writer's choice.

This is not to say that NO blogs or podcasts should be G-rated.  If that is your style, great.  Also, there were some teachers in the room and they said they use those podcasts sometimes in lessons.  That is great!  The point is, don't try to be someone who you are not.

There was some Q&A.  What can we do online besides blogging, podcasting etc.?  Another swing and a miss here.  They said commenting was good on stories that may lack a skeptical viewpoint, but the panel was convinced that it the author won't change the article or update it.  I don't think that is true.  From my experience, the comment section on most newspaper sites is a heaping pile of shitheads (no G-rating) who sit around all day and just wait to call people names.  However, this does not mean that you can't respond to the journalist directly and provide them a skeptical viewpoint and avoid the mosh pit of the comments.  This was never said and it should have been.  Also, from a later panel, if you comment to the same journalist many times in this manner, they may just contact you back for a skeptical viewpoint before the publish an article.  You can also write editorials to the paper with the skeptical view.  If you belong to a skeptical organization, get your organization's name in front of those journalists and be the go to voice for them with an opposing viewpoint.

The rest of the panel was basically a disappointment to me.  Yes, having some dissension on the panel is a good thing, but they really didn't argue it on the panel, they just let the contradictions hang in the room.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert Reich

Robert Reich is the former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton.  I'm not really sure why he didn't have a larger role in his Administration.  Also, why this man is not a top economic adviser to Obama, I have no idea.  Do yourself a favor and go to his website,, and check out the videos and what he has written.  It is common sense stuff that is critical of both Republicans and Obama.  And, he has a vision for what we need to do for the future.  I'm definitely going to subscribe to his RSS feed from his website, twitter, and look at reading some of his books.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Following Republican Logic is Hazardous to Your Health

You can take your pick on who said what.  Between Boehner, McConnell, and Cantor, it all adds up to crazy shit.  The GOP is against a $4 trillion spending cut plan because they are concerned about the paltry revenue increases.  Try and follow the logic here.  They claim that it is not acceptable to consider tax increases because it is taking money out of the economy and putting it into the treasury.  OK.  With me so far.  But, they are perfectly OK with a $2.5 trillion spending cut because, well, that takes money out of the economy and puts it into the treasury.  Did you blink?

Let's review again.  They don't want to increase taxes because that takes money out of the economy.  Instead, they would rather cut spending in a Draconian way instead, because that takes money out of the economy.

Also, when they talk about the tax increases for the wealthy, the refer to them as the job providers.  Um, no, that is called trickle down economics and I think we can all agree that was a failure.  But, hey, let's try the same thing again, because it just may work.  Instead, they want to cut taxes.  Well, guess what, we extended the Bush tax cuts about 7 months ago.  Did it help?  Nope.  It didn't help in 2001 or in any of the years leading up to the renewal.  Do you know what those "job providers" do with the money they save on their taxes?  Yep, they invest it in Wall Street, so they can make even more money for themselves and the suits on Wall Street.  Then guess what happens, they want to cut the capital gains taxes so they can save even more of their saved money from taxes.

Our national problem is jobs, not the deficit.  We have record low interest rates and no one right now has any issue letting the US borrow money from them, at least until the GOP fucks it up by holding the debt limit hostage.  We need jobs, which means we need government spending.  Not cutting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Feds Say No to Medical Marijuana

I have many things to be disappointed about with the Obama Administration.  Here is another example that ties into the whole "War on Drugs" and its miserable failure over the last 25 years (another Republican idea that stinks).
The federal government officially declared that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a dangerous and addictive drug. It will remain in the same class of drugs as heroin.
You can read all the details and history of the effort to reclassify marijuana as a lesser drug that heroin.  This effort even pre-dates the "War on Drugs."  It is also a prime example of how slowly the Federal Government works.

What does this mean?  Most likely a Constitutional challenge on States' Rights I would assume.  As more and more states are legalizing medical marijuana, and at least one state, Connecticut, actually reclassifying marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, the Feds are basically saying they don't care and will still go after the growers of medical marijuana.  If a state legalizes medical marijuana, does the Federal Government have the right to ignore that and raid them.  Or, are the states in violation of the Federal Controlled Substance legislation and in violation by their passing of such laws.

With the states facing major budget issues and prisons all over the United States dealing with overcrowding, there is quite a bit of financial justification for ignoring the marijuana issue.  I can't find the post now, but it is said that U.S. Law Enforcement spends almost 4 billion dollars a year in marijuana enforcement.  I can think of better places for 4 billion dollars to be spent, such as schools.  That number doesn't include the cost to incarcerate either.  Imagine how much could be saved by letting the petty marijuana people go?  Again, put that money into the schools instead.

Obama campaigned to do something different about the marijuana issue, treating it has a health issue and not a criminal issue.  You can read Ed Brayton's blog post on this from 2009 where Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to end medical marijuana raids.  Then this more recent post from a couple of days ago where the DOJ has done a complete 180.

Insanity is often described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  The "War on Drugs," especially has it pertains to marijuana, has been a complete and dismal failure.  So, the natural reaction is to keep doing what we are doing in hopes it will somehow lead to a different result.

Update [7/11/2011]  So, the Feds say no acceptable medical use.  What does the science say?  Here is a Scientific American article that tries to address this question.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tighten Those Wingnuts

Just when you thought those wingnuts Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum couldn't get their wingnuttery screwed on any tighter, they double down with split ring washers and flatten them with pneumatic tools.
It’s called “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family,” and Vander Plaats announced that candidates who refuse to sign the pledge won’t even be considered for an endorsement. Given Vander Plaats’ sway among right-wing activists in Iowa — his group, The Family Leader, is a conservative power in the state — this will no doubt get GOP candidates’ attention.
So, what is in this lovely pledge that Vander Plaats is asking GOP candidates to sign?  Well, you can read it for yourself.

Basically, it asks the candidates to be faithful to their spouse (Sorry Gingrich).  It implies that a child born into slavery was "more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA‟s first African-American President."  Be completely and totally anti-gay and anti-porn.  And, asks them to be against "Sharia Islam."

The anti-Sharia movement has been very interesting to watch amongst the Religious Right.  They are basically claiming that Sharia law has crept in and is taking over our legal system.  What is ironic about this is that Sharia law is not very different than what some of these crazy evangelicals want to impose as part of their vision of an American Theocracy.  I mean, Sharia is a serious threat isn't it?  Hardly.  Less than 2% of the entire US Population consider themselves Muslim.  Many of them are very moderate in their views.  The thought that such a minority voting block could somehow manage to take over the US Legal System when the Religious Right has been trying to do that for decades (with some success) is asinine, but such is the fear and hate mongering of the Ring Wing Christians.

Sharia is also anti-gay and anti-porn, so there seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest there.

The always insightful Steve Benen has his take on this at is blog Political Animal.

Update [7/11/2011]  The Family Leader group that published the vow and retracted the slavery came with the following comment:
“After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued,” said Julie Summa, a spokeswoman for the Family Leader. “We sincerely apologize for any negative feelings this has caused, and have removed the language from the vow.”
So, it's not really an apology.  They were just concerned that others would "misconstrue" what they were saying.  Utter bullshit if you ask me.  Besides, that doesn't change the fact that Bachmann and Santorum still signed it with the original language.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Republican Sabotage of the Economy

Ever since Obama took office, major Republicans said quite openly and aggressively that they hoped Obama would fail.  From that day forward, they have been the most obstructionist group of politicians in many years.  Now that they have gotten control of the House, they are successfully implementing their plan of complete and utter economic failure.  Republicans keep asking where the jobs are, but they utterly fail to understand that jobs requires economic growth, which usually requires government stimulus.  The Republican theory is that companies won't hire because they are concerned about our debt.  So, what do they do, they hijack the debt ceiling as if that is something that controls our debt.  It doesn't.  The debt ceiling allows us to pay back our existing debt.  This is money that the government has already spent and is not tied to future spending.  By leaving elements of our economy doubting whether or not the US will meet its financial obligations is preventing job growth.  So, the Republicans have successfully managed to manufacture the necessary fear to make it appear Obama is failing, when it reality, history has shown that increase in spending to generate economic growth will do far more to reduce the future deficit by increasing revenue.

Steve Benen has a great blog post this morning on just this thing and has been advocating the position that the Republicans have no interest in seeing the economy improve prior to next year's election.

There other maddening thing the Republicans are doing is their insistence on no revenue increases.  Here is a chart that shows Reagan, of all people, proposed a deal that was 75% revenue increases.  Recent history does show that tax increases has actually spurred economic growth and that tax cuts, especially the Bush tax cut from 2001 does not provide the magic fairy dust trickle down economics that they think it does.

The Republicans are fucking with us in the worst possible way.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cancer Awareness Facebook Memes

9 inches :(
7 inches :(
6.5 inches :(

Come on.  Any girl would be happy with that!  Right!  Or,

I like it on table.
I like it on the kitchen counter.

Kinky girls.  Kinky.

What is all this nonsense?  Well, it is a Facebook meme for raising cancer awareness amongst the women while leaving the men confused and befuddled.

Question 1.  How long is your foot in inches?
Question 2.  Where do you like to put your purse?

Both of these started circulating on FB sometime in October of last year.

A similar meme was what color is your bra?

I'm certainly a big fan of cancer awareness, but it seems rather silly to me to raise cancer awareness while simultaneously keeping men in the dark.  Wouldn't us guys...Shouldn't us guys also be aware?

While it certainly may generate some fun and a few snickers here and there, I really don't understand the point of leaving the men in the dark on such an issue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So Help Me God

Religion has a sneaky way of penetrating even the most patriotic of ceremonies.  Every year, a large group of new citizens take an "Oath of Citizenship" or something to that affect.  For many years, this ceremony takes place on the 4th of July at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.  This oath, as written, ends with the words "so help me God."  Think about that.  Every new citizen of the United States is expected to say "so help me God."  Fortunately, a provision is provided in the rules of the oath that the "so help me God" part can be simply omitted by anyone who simply has to state that they object to it for whatever reason.  Phew.  After all, the Constitution of the United States, explicitly states that there shall be no religious test for elected office, it follows that there should be no religious test for citizenship as well.

However, even today, there are still laws in some states that explicitly forbid an atheist from holding public office.  Fortunately, in some states, this law is simply ignored.  In a few cases where it has been challenged, it has been ruled unconstitutional.

Then you get people like Texas Gov. Rick Perry who is holding a prayer vigil and a day of fasting and has invited all the Governors to join him. 
This is Governor Rick Perry and I'm inviting you to join your fellow Americans for a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation. As an elected leader, I am all too aware of government's limitations when it comes to fixing things that are spiritual in nature. That's where prayer comes in, and we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help. That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did and as God called the Israelite to do in the Book of Joel. I sincerely hope you will join me in Houston on August the sixth and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, his wisdom and provision for our state and nation. To learn more, visit then makes plans to be part of something even bigger than Texas.
When Perry has been approached by the media to discuss this and the obvious conflicts involving church/state separation, Perry has declined to discuss it.  Here is what a spokesperson said on the Governor's behalf.
"He never talks about his faith," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said.
Yeah, right.  Only every other word out of his mouth.  Do you really want a political leader that is going to rely on prayer for answers to our nation's most difficult problems.  Has God ever created a job, or balanced budget?  Remember, Perry also called for prayer to put out the fires in his state back in March.  Never mind all the men and women who were working tirelessly to fight those fires.  Why even bother if God will provide.

Then you have people like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum.  All three of which were called to run for POTUS because God spoke to them.  Sounds like God is a three-timing whore if you ask me.

Then you have the Mayor of Harrisburg, PA, Linda Thompson, organized a "prayer and fasting" program because, "Things that are above and beyond my control; I need God."  I bet the people of Harrisburg and feeling really good about that right about now.

Guess what?  God didn't call you to run for office, God won't fix your budget, and God won't decrease the unemployment rate.  That takes hard work and tough choices by those who we have elected to make those choices.  Leave your prayers and wishful thinking for church where it won't do you any good there either.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Atheism, Feminism, and a Blogosphere Apocolyptic Shit Storm

Have you ever posted something on Facebook that was pretty mundane and mildly uninteresting, only to have it blow up with dozens of comments in a matter of minutes?  Well, something like that happened in the atheist blogosphere over the last couple of weeks.  I am not going to link to all of the posts because there are probably about a dozen of them, along with blog comments that are relevant.  I'll try and hit the highlights.

Rebecca Watson, a blogger at Skepchick, often gives talks at various skeptic/atheist conferences on feminism and sexism, especially as it related to the atheist movement.  Rebecca was giving a talk on such issues at a conference in Dublin, then hung out with a bunch of people having beers and socializing when she decided to head back to her hotel room.  It is 4 a.m.  A guy gets into the elevator with her and asks her back to his room for coffee, she politely (and probably quite tiredly) said no.  She posted a video blog in which she mentioned this encounter and that it made her feel very uncomfortable, especially after just having given a talk about sexism that evening.  Her only comment here was to tell us guys, "Hey, don't do stuff like that."  Which I think is very justified.

Next, another female blogger (Stef) posted that she disagreed with this approach for various reasons.  This too is OK. 

Next, Rebecca called out Stef at her keynote address a day or two later.  I don't have all the details, but Rebecca got a ton of criticism for using her "privlege" and "position" as the speaker to call her out.  There are two schools of thought on this.  First, when giving examples of things you disagree with, you should be very specific as to who said what.  This stems from past history where atheist-friendly bloggers and made general accusations about other atheists, but when pressed for details and specific, could offer none.  PZ Myers stated this quite clearly in Rebecca's defense.  Others, such as Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, and a public school math teacher by day, said that this is probably not the best approach if you want to encourage people to continue to speak up.  Emphasize what was right about the response and lead them to identify what was wrong with the response.  Fair enough.  In this case, both women are adults and have a public forum to express their views, so I'm not sure the classroom approach works well here or not.  This was but one side story on the whole "ElevatorGate" issue.

Next, Richard Dawkins (yes, that Richard Dawkins) made some comments on PZ's blog that basically told Rebecca to cool her jets and since the guy didn't do anything, she was overreacting, besides, he said, there are women in Muslim countries that have it far worse than Rebecca.  These comments have caused a major shit storm.  PZ verified that it was indeed the real Richard Dawkins.  Here is a case where being a subject matter expert (SME) in on area of atheism/skepticism does not make you an expert in all things related to atheism.  Dawkins, quite simply, doesn't get how a women could feel uncomfortable in that situation, especially since nothing happened.  His attempts to clarify have only gotten him in more hot water.  Dawkins is a SME on evolution and can debate just about anyone on matters of religion.  He is also a champion for equality and women's rights as they pertain to religious persecution.  But, he is not an expert on feminism and sexism and he just doesn't get it.  I hope he does.

There have been other posts by other prominent bloggers weighing in as well.  There certainly appears to have some hurt feelings and a few friendships strained. 

Next week, I will be attending The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas.  All of the major players in this brouhaha will be there.  I strongly suspect that one of them will get them all together to hash this whole thing out.  After all, that is what reasonable people do and atheists/skeptics sort of pride themselves on being reasonable.

So, two take aways from this.  Guys, think about the position you put women in under these circumstances.   You may know you are no threat, but she doesn't.  Be aware of the context.  Hey, if you've been flirting with her all night and you head off to the elevator together, then the question is not out of line or out of place, just be prepared to hear no.  Also, ask before you are in the elevator so she has an "out" if she isn't comfortable.  Another example is when walking along a street at night and you see a women approaching and she is alone, cross the street.  Take away any sense of distress she may have.  She will likely thank you for it even if you never hear it.

Second, know that not every one of the prominent atheists out there are experts in everything.  PZ is an expert in evolutionary biology, but knows not to speak a whole lot about astrophysics and the Big Bang.  Rebecca is a SME on sexism and feminism, but probably can't speak to much about evolution.  Same with people like Dawkins, or Hitchens, etc.  Some of them know they aren't experts and do well to avoid questions our of their area of expertise.  Others think they know more than they do and insert their foot in their mouths.

Finally, I will offer a couple of links to some good "summary" blogs.  Even if you do not consider  yourself an atheist or skeptic, there are lessons to be learned from these posts.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance Facebook Status

I have seen this status posted by several friends today.  They run in different social circles and are not friends with each other.  I've also seen this posted numerous times over the last several months.  I can no longer not comment on it.  Here is the post.


First, there is no need to shout.

Second, the comment that "they no longer do this" is a blatant, flat out lie.  43 states currently have laws where the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is required in some shape or form. 

Third, just because it was some how "traditional" that we recited the Pledge when our generation was in school does not make it right.  Contrary to popular belief, tradition and correctness are not one in the same.  If we still went by "tradition," then black people would still be drinking from their own water fountains.  Tradition is a way to indoctrinate the next generation in the ways of the previous generation and are often cited as a way to justify maintaining something that is wrong today.  This is not to say that all traditions are bad, keep the good ones.  Eliminate the bad ones. 

As a side note, the concept of tradition is very strong in the Republican Party. Is not tradition not a conservative trait.  Isn't being a Conservative all about maintaining what was traditional 20, 30, 60 years ago?  The funny thing with Conservatives is that 20 years from now, they will be fighting to maintain what progressives are fighting for today, such as gay marriage, etc.  Anyway...

Fourth, I will make an assumption that the target of those who post this wish to offend non-believers with the "under God" reference.  This is humorous to me because the whole reason for this Facebook post is that those with strong Christian beliefs are offended in their own right.  So, to make it right in their mind, they must offend back.

Fifth, there is an assumption that I am somehow not a true American if a I don't post this and share the same belief in the Abrahamic God that the Pledge is clearly referencing.  I do find that offensive.  Just because I, and millions of other Americans don't believe in the same Sky Fairy as you do doesn't make us less American.  Patriotism is not defined by religious beliefs.

Another side note.  A man who is often praised and cited as being extremely patriotic and is honored quite often is Pat Tillman.  Pat Tillman was an atheist.  Are you going to argue that he wasn't patriotic?

The "under God" part was added during the era of heightened McCarthyism.  It is a relic of fear and propaganda.  Strangely, the country was doing just fine with the pre-under God form.  I believe that the Pledge of Allegiance in its current form is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment.  Numerous lawsuits had failed because those arguing in favor of keeping the "under God" are using the tradition argument for one, and also using an argument that God is somehow generic and not specific.  I already spoke about the absurdity of the tradition argument.  The generic god argument is also humorous to me.  Atheists don't really give a shit which god is mentioned because we don't believe in any god.  Also, if you were to go back and study the history of the current form of the Pledge, you would see that the intent is clearly the Abrahmic God in the eyes of Christianity.

Lastly, there are those who would argue that the Pledge of Allegiance, regardless of the form used, is, itself, unconstitutional.  Requiring a citizen of a supposedly free country to pledge allegiance to that country is somewhat dictatorial in itself. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

People Watching at Disneyland

I spent the better part of 3 days at Disneyland with my son last week.  Just walking through the park or standing in line, you really have no choice but to people watch.  Here are a few observations.

  • I have never understood why young couples feel compelled to bring their infant or toddler to Disneyland.  They have no clue what is going.  They will have no memories whatsoever of the event.  One parent is stuck on child care duty while the other one goes on a ride sans child?  I just don't get it.  At least wait until they are old enough to walk on their own and have some idea of what they are doing there.
  • Same as above, except with triplets.  Really?  WTF were you thinking?
  • What's the deal with wearing racer-back tops with regular bras?
  • Did you really stop to think that wearing sandals with 5 inch heals is going to work well for walking around Disneyland for 10 to 12 hours?
  • The R2-D2 Micky Mouse ears are awesome.
  • Riverbelle Terrace = Best breakfast in Disneyland.
  • Yeah, those black jeans and black top are going to make you one happy camper at 2 p.m.
  • I saw people in line reading books.  Amazingly enough, I saw no e-readers.  Wouldn't this be the perfect place for that?
  • I must look honest, I was given the "line timing" card twice by the ride entry cast member.  They give you a red card on a lanyard that they ask you to give to the cast member upon boarding the ride.  They use this to help update the "Wait Time" at the ride entry.  (Astro Blasters and Big Thunder)
  • Decidedly fewer Asian tours this year than in past years.  Tokyo Disneyland must have really cut into the guided tour business in Anaheim.  Thank the fictional gods.
  • Tomorrowland sucks.  Yes, Space Mountain is cool.  Star Tours is cool.  Astro Blaster was more fun than I expected.  That's it.  Yes, technically the Autopia and the Nemo Submarine ride are in Tomorrowland, but who cares.  Moving the rocket jets from the top of the old Skyway station to the front of Tomorrowland was dumb.  It's a big roadblock.  Traffic flow is a mess.  The old Skyway/Rocket Rods ride is an eyesore.
  • I really wish Monorails would have caught on more as a public transportation device.  I wonder if a raised monorail track would have been more cost efficient than the light rail lines currently in place?
  • The name of the Yeti in the Matterhorn is Harold.
  • Why do women insist on wearing tube/strapless tops?  It seems like they spend half their time pulling them up.
  • Same as above except with regular bras.  What look are you going for?
  • I actually made it a point to try and watch guys as well, but quite frankly, they were boring.  Although I did see a number of black socks with sandals.