Sunday, December 29, 2013

Atheism Is Not An Intellectual Luxury For The Wealthy - An Open LetterTo Chris Arnade

The following is an open letter to Chris Arnade, in response to his article on AlterNet, titled "Is Atheism an Intellectual Luxury for the Wealthy?" (originally in The Guardian).

My answer to the question you pose in the title of your article, is an adamant "no".

You start the article with a story from your adolescence similar, in regards to interactions with believers, to the stories many of us who were atheists at that age have.
Preacher Man's eyes narrowed. He pointed at me, "You are an APE-IEST. An APE-IEST. You going to lead a life of sin and end in hell."
You then describe your later life.
Three years later I did escape my town, eventually receiving a PhD in physics, and then working on Wall Street for 20 years. A life devoted to rational thought, a life devoted to numbers and clever arguments. During that time I counted myself an atheist and nodded in agreement as a wave of atheistic fervor swept out of the scientific community and into the media, led by Richard Dawkins.
You're incorrectly equating atheism & science and lending credibilty to the silly notion that Dawkins is some kind atheist Pope, but that's only minor criticism.  My problem is more with what followed.
I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.
You expected the homeless drug addicts to be atheists.  This is insulting for a number of reasons and reveals your ignorance in a few ways.

When you expected to meet other atheists you assumed they would be just like you, as if we're all identically cynical.  The atheists I've met have been the least cynical group of people I've ever encountered.  I tend to be fairly cynical, and it shows most when shown next to the optimism of the atheists I know.  And yet we still constantly face this stereotype.  Maybe you didn't know many atheists or knew nothing of what atheism really is, but either way, you were reinforcing that stereotype.  I doubt that was your intention, but it was nevertheless the result.

In addition to your ignorance about atheists, you reveal an even greater ignorance of both the poor and of religion.  The most common path from religion to atheism is indeed a level of inquiry not available to the homeless, whose entire focus is rightly on merely surviving.  This fact could have been a good argument in favor of a "yes" answer to your titular question, but you didn't address it all.  I suspect you left it unaddressed because it never even occurred to you.  If you'd realized that economic status is not relevant to belief in a god, you'd probably have spared us the article entirely.

How else could you have been so surprised that they're not only believers, but they're more so than most others?
None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.
Of course they're strong believers.  Religion provides hope to the desperate that their current situation is a temporary stepping stone to something far better.  It's a false hope, but that's irrelevant to the desperate.

Also unaddressed was how religion uses that false hope to prey on the desperate.  Religious charities often use the promise of help to coerce people into letting themselves be preached to.  Religious charities promise religion will make their lives better and then give them things, like food & shelter, that actually will make theirs lives better.  It's not far fetched to expect that the people being helped would mistakenly attribute the improvements in their lives to the religion and not to the food under a roof.

And that's all assuming that everyone in that situation is even a believer.  It ignores that many may have left religion before they they encountered hard times.  It disregards the fact that atheists can become homeless too.  It ignores the fact that homeless atheists often feign belief when it's what's required to eat.

You may have left your cushy Wall Street job to photograph the homeless, but you appear to still have some things to learn.
They have their faith because what they believe in doesn't judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.
At least you got this part right.  Sort of.  Of course we shouldn't be preaching atheism to them.  As noted above, their focus is on survival.  Preaching atheism to them would make us no better than the religious ghouls preaching religion to them.  They don't need to be preached at.  They need something more tangible.

This is all obvious to most atheists I know, so why include this?  Do you think atheists are going around preaching to the homeless?  I'm not aware of any atheists who would call that acceptable behavior.  Including that bit suggests that atheists running around acting like assholes, preaching to the desperate, when we're doing no such thing.  You needlessly throw us all under the bus.

And for what?  To make yourself feel superior about not doing that thing that none of us are doing?
Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.
I'm sure your intention was not to suggest that atheism is only available to the rich.  You tried to qualify it by saying "my atheism", but the rest of your statement negates that by talking about atheism in general.  It's a blanket dismissal of all the working class atheists who exist.  That, by the way, is a hell of a lot of atheists, including myself.

You were a rich guy interacting with the opposite end of the spectrum.  You ignored the majority of people in between those two extremes of economic status.  You also ignored all the rich people who are devout believers, especially those who became rich via those beliefs.
I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

I see someone doing what he claims to hate in others. Preaching from a selfish vantage point.
Preaching from a selfish vantage point is precisely what you were doing with this article.  You're preaching at the atheist community for being proud of our reason.  You're projecting your own arrogance onto Dawkins and the rest of us.

Dawkins is indeed arrogant about his intelligence.  But that doesn't make him out of touch or so single minded that he cannot understand why people believe differently from him.  He understands it well enough to have a written a book, The God Delusion, that many atheists credit as sparking their path to atheism.  The only other book I see given such credit more is The Bible.

You, on the other hand, seem to have trouble figuring out why people disagree with you.
Given that tweet, you also apparently have extremely limited experience interacting with both the religious and with atheists.  This seems pretty odd to me, since you're more public to the religious than I am.  If you got the e-mail I receive, you'd know better than to suggest they simply bring things to read & eat to those they disagree with.

And if you knew the atheists I know, you would know better than to suggest that they're hypocritical assholes.

If you're going to talk about us in the future, please do us the favor of actually learning about us.  That would be much more appreciated than preaching from your Wall Street high horse.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A New Trend In Christmas Decorations?

I don't know if this is a new thing or if I'm just now noticing it, but there seems to be a new trend in Christmas decorations.  Please excuse the shittiness of the pictures, the were taken with a cell phone.  That's what happens when I have to take my own pictures instead of getting them from Biblename Foto.

This classy house has a nice collection of items.  

In the middle of that mess, they bothered to include a nativity.

Also in there, was this penguin.

In another part of town, there's a house with the same style of decoration on each side of its lawn.  On the left, it's a nativity.

And on the right, it's penguins caroling.

Elsewhere, I found this nativity in the empty lot next to a house.

In front of that house were these penguins.

In another yard, there's Santa's penguin army.

In the same neighborhood as Santa's penguin army is this penguin army.


This yard has some penguins fiddling with an inflatable mailbox as some snowmen & Winnie the Pooh watch.

I'm pretty that thing on the left is a penguin.

This penguin, its house's only decoration, is hiding in a bush, apparently not realizing what Winter does to that kid of bush.

So, as this Christmas Day comes to a close, I'm left wondering something about the Christians who celebrated it.  What's a more important part of Christmas to them, Jesus or penguins?

Some Haiku For Your Christmas

I don't have much to say for this Christmas.  But here are some haiku anyway.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Problem Is Not Phil Robertson

When news of A&E's suspension of Phil Robertson started coming out, I was annoyed by the surprise that he said something bigoted.  The guy is pretty open about his Christian beliefs.  Surely, A&E knew he held those beliefs.  Especially since those beliefs are not even that uncommon among Christians.

Since the suspension, the Christian Right have been falling all over themselves to defend Robertson and attack A&E.  I think Beth Presswood put it best.
I can't stand these dudes.. but I also can't stand people who act like this is shocking and not standard Christian doctrine.
Well, Presswood got it second best.  No one has yet topped God.
Of course it's not all Christians.  But it is part of their doctrine, and it's the majority of the Christian Right and their voices in media.  Sarah Palin wasted no time defending him.  And the comments from her fans back up my point.

These are from just a bit of what was in a small section of that one post by one right wing icon.  From the comments in a post from a right wing acquaintance, was something special.

The scary part is that I've interacted with extreme right wingers to know that isn't just this guy.  That craziness is quite common.  As is the cluelessness that led the guy to follow that comment by linking to Rage Against the Machine.

This shit is not rare.  Hate from Christians is commonplace.  Phil Robertson is not the problem.  He's merely a symptom of a much larger problem.  But he's also a great, public example of the problem.  This is good opportunity to put a spotlight on the fact that Phil Robertson's views on homosexuality are both common and wrong (even if his departure has been planned for months).  As Steven Olson (blogger at Carl Sagan's Dance Party & co-author of Unbelievable History) put it,
A lot of people are reacting with a lack of surprise on Duck Dynasty's bigotry. The thing is, it's still important to talk about it. When we shine a light on the examples of bad behavior in the public sphere, it gives us a chance to convince more people to begin treating others with respect.
And these aren't fringe views. This is mainstream conservatism. Politicians who were nearly president have been defending this or saying the same exact things.
We have work to do, and calling out a famous beard guy is an effective way to do it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Amy And The War On Christmas

Sometimes you see something so stupid that you just have to share it even though you're dumbfounded about what to say about it.  With that, I give War On Christmas warrior, Amy.

I found this via the Young Turks, who were as dumbfounded as I was.  It feels like a parody, but it's apparently being promoted by a church.

Multiple comments by the channel hosting the video have said:
The WAR ON CHRISTMAS can only end through UNDERSTANDING.
Understanding of what?  What is it they think we don't understand that they think we're supposedly waging a war on their holiday?

Although, I do agree that understanding would end the "War On Christmas" nonsense.  If these people understood that Bill O'Reilly is full of shit, they'd stop thinking they need to worry about fake threats.

If these people understood that atheists don't give a fuck what Christians celebrate in their own lives, they could stop thinking we give a fuck enough to try wage a whole goddamn war on it.

If people understood that many atheists celebrate Christmas too, they could stop freaking out over nothing and share the holiday with atheists like Richard Dawkins.

If people understood that we give zero fucks about what greeting my cashier uses between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, they wouldn't have to make asses of themselves boycotting good businesses who've done nothing wrong.

If the people caring for Amy understood that no one is attempting to keep her from celebrating Christmas however she likes, they wouldn't have to scare the shit out of a child for no good reason.

Christians are taking a lot of damage in this "War On Christmas", but it's all self inflicted.  Keep your religion out of government, and you'll be otherwise free to celebrate your holidays however you like.

This ad, that seems to only be confusing people, certainly cost them a decent amount of money to run.  I bet that money could have bought a lot of coats for people who would definitely benefit from them.  But fuck the poor people who are cold in Winter.  It's obviously more important to keep people from saying "Happy Holidays" in December.


Abortion Will End Tomorrow

Tomorrow will be the last day for abortion.  It will end tomorrow.

Tomorrow, at 1pm EST on Twitter, people who call themselves "Pro-Life" will be praying to end abortion.

Frankly, I'm glad they're doing it.  I'd much rather they waste their time on harmless, ineffective endeavors like prayer than sabotaging womens' health or murdering more people.

Plus, it could make for some fun trolling on the Twitters.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December 25 Is A Popular Date

It's December, so the whining about the mythical "War On Christmas" has begun[1].  It doesn't matter to the Christians complaining about how much they think atheists supposedly hate Christmas that most atheists celebrate Christmas as well.

Christmas has been celebrated since before the time Jesus is supposed to have lived.  This, as you probably already know, is because the date of December 25 is among the many traditions Christians took from other religions to use for their Christmas holiday.

For a short list of some other uses of December 25, see this post.  That list is why people who complain about the use of the term "Happy Holidays" are, to put it as nicely as I can, arrogant douchebags.

Celebrate whatever holiday you want.  Just don't throw a hissy fit because other people celebrate other things.  Let the crocodile tears be shed on Fox News.  Besides, it's not like you'll be able to outdo them in terms of nonsense[2], stupidity[3], or hypocrisy[4].

(Thanks to:  @Teresamacbain)

1.  The sad part is I already know that despite having written this in January.
2.  Bill O'Reilly Clashes With Gov. Lincoln Chafee
3.  Fox News Brings On Santa Claus To Discuss The ‘War On Christmas’
4.  After O'Reilly's "War On Christmas" Rant, Fox Wishes Viewers "Happy Holidays"

Saturday, November 23, 2013

People Worth Your Attention / BibleName Foto's Camera Needs Your Help

The atheist movement is jam packed with hidden heroes.  JT Eberhard's talk at Skepticon 6 was about this not well enough known fact.  One of those hidden heroes was a friend, someone who I've mentioned here before.  He's someone I've been meaning to do a People Worth Your Attention post on for a long time, so this post will double as that.

Photo credit:  @aparticularA
He tries to stay relatively hidden but cannot because his talent is on display in some notable places.  Although, it's still not what I think he deserves.  The way JT put was spot on.  He puts a face on atheism.

The thing that makes him worth your attention isn't that Keith Lowell Jensen has used his photos.

It's not that both Keith & Shelley Segal are currently using them as their profile pictures.  The magic of Biblename Foto is that his Facebook page & Flickr (for higher resolution pictures) are a constant example of the fact that atheists are real people with real personalities and real emotions.  He does photograph theists too, but him being at an atheist conference is the single best way to get a great picture of everyone there not wearing that conference's code for "do not photograph me".

My post about Apostacon being done was only a fraction of the pictures that came from that weekend.  I ended up doing another post, with more pictures, and it was still not even close to all of them.  Just for Apostacon, he had to separate it out into 5 albums.

Apostacon, Day 1! (Friday evening)
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Apostacon Saturday, Part I
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Apostacon, Sat (part II)
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
The Meat Ball!!! (And Dueling Pianos)
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Sunday Is Apostaday
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
He worked his magic at Skepticon 6 too.

Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
Photo credit:  Biblename Foto
It's ridiculous how much longer I could go with this string of pictures, but I've got to cut it off somewhere and finally get to the reason this post is happening tonight instead of later down the road.

This weekend, Biblename's camera got broken.  Not only does did it give us all of the above photos (except for the first one, which I took and intentionally put first to show the clear difference in quality a good camera provides), but it's also his primary means of income.

With the help of a friend who works at a camera store, we can get the camera repaired for roughly $500.  An effort to raise this money has been started, with a variety of ways to donate.  If you're able and willing, the primary method is to use PayPal to send money to  Anything beyond what it takes to get him camera capable again will also go to him, as a "thank you" for all the work he puts into this, most often for free.

However, I do not make this request without bias.  He is one of my favorite people, after all.  But would it not be a tragedy if these photos were to end?

As mentioned above, his work can found on Facebook & Flickr.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Greece v Galloway Plaintiff Joins Secular Coalition For America Weekly Conference Call

The Secular Coalition For America[1] does a weekly conference call each Thursday at noon (Eastern time).  This week, they were joined by Linda Stephens,[2] one of the plaintiffs for Greece v. Galloway[3], a case challenging prayer in public meetings which has been taken all way to the Supreme Court[4].

Stephens talked about how prayer, and Christianity has apparently been used in the town of Greece by a town official to increase his own political power, including how a mega church in town passes out biased voter guides.  I only have her word to go on here, but it's definitely something worth investigating further for anyone in the area who cares about Church, State Separation.

It's not far fetched to think what Stephens said is happening could be true.  It's not like churches aren't doing shady things in regards to elections[5].

She also spoke briefly about some of the harassment she and Susan Galloway received as a result of the case, including mentioning that the harassment made one of the other plaintiffs back out.  This also isn't unsurprising, considering what happens to atheists who don't want to pray even without suing[6].  And we all know Jessica Ahlquist's story[7].

For more on the case, see Americans United[8].  For updates, follow SCOTUS Blog[9].  Or just pay attention, because once the decision is announced, it'll be hard to miss.  Especially if they actually do the right thing, which would cause Fox News, and the rest of the right wing media, to lose their minds.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Skepticism And Local News

I'm not a fan out how media in Omaha promotes woo[1].  And, of course, all local news stations used Halloween as an excuse to do stories on ghosts.

KMTV, our CBS affiliate featured Omaha's ghost hunter team PRISM, investigating the supposedly haunted Hummel Park[2].  Fortunately, they Omaha historian Howard Hamilton, who debunked the claims.  Although, they didn't air the actual debunking and left it open for people to believe anyway, despite having just reported that it had been debunked.

KPTM Fox 42 did a better job of it[3].

Although, I'm probably biased since the 2 skeptics speaking in this video are friends, and the 3rd one is me.

Both of these aired on Halloween night.  It was a fun excuse for them to talk about ghosts, and I commend them for actually giving skeptics some air time.  I wish they'd do it more often.  I wish they'd stick to it

It only took them one day until one of the channels went back to promoting woo, with no correction[4].  Given the amount of people on KETV's Facebook[5] who believe this guy enough to give him money, they completely failed in their duty to inform the public.

Unfortunately, I fear being responsible reporters was merely a Halloween costume.  My only consolation was the interest KPTM's Laura Berry showed in potentially doing more debunking reporting.  Only time will tell if she follows through on it and if her lets her do it.

Past experience has me skeptical[6].

6.  Pun intented

Monday, October 21, 2013

Christian Bigot, Kevin Swanson Wants You To Buy Girl Scout Cookies

Right Wing Watch has posted clips of Christian Radio hosts Kevin Swanson & Dave Buehner saying some stupid shit[1] about the Girl Scouts, "lesbianism" [sic], and singer Sara Bareilles[2].  In the clips, Kevin Swanson begs their listeners to not buy Girl Scout cookies.

The individualism of feminism has been devastating to this country. I’d say you ought to say no the Girl Scout cookies too. I don’t want to support lesbianism, I don’t want to support Planned Parenthood and I don’t want to support abortion, and if that be the case I’m not buying Girl Scout cookies.
He hates women being equal to men (feminism), lesbians, Planned Parenthood, and women having control over their own bodies (abortion).  So he's not buying the cookies.  But I love all those things.  So I'll be buying plenty of them this year.

He's also got a problem with the Girl Scout's stated vision:
It does and I don’t want to promote a wicked organization that according to its own website doesn’t promote godly womanhood, it just doesn’t, I don’t see anything that promotes godly womanhood. The vision of the Girl Scouts of America is antithetical to a biblical vision for womanhood, it’s antithetical to it.
Let's take a look at their website to see what it says.  From their Advocacy page[3]:
Girl Scouts of the USA's advocacy efforts help demonstrate to lawmakers that Girl Scouts is a resource and an authority on issues affecting girls. Based on almost 100 years of experience and developed from extensive research, the Girl Scout Public Policy and Advocacy Office:
  • Encourages girls' healthy living through combating Relational Aggression and promoting girl-positive media images;
  • Ensures girls feel emotionally and physically safe;
  • Promotes girls' involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM);
  • Develops financial literacy skills; and
  • Gives a voice to girls in underserved communities.
I wonder if it's anything from in that getting Swanson all upset.

Or maybe it's something from their page on Diversity[4]:
Diversity has been a core value of Girl Scouts since its founding in 1912. At a time of segregation and before laws promoting civil rights were passed, our founder, Juliette Gordon Low, ensured that African-American, American Indian and Hispanic girls were able to become Girl Scouts. She led efforts to make Girl Scouting available to girls who lived in rural and urban areas, to girls who were rich, middle class and poor, and to girls who were born in this country as well as immigrants.
Since his complaint is a lack of Biblical womanhood, let's take a look at womanhood in the Bible.

1 Timothy 2:11-12[5]
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
There's also Ephesians 5[6], which I recently wrote about in more detail[7].
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Kevin Swanson is a sexist who has a problem with women being independent, without a man in charge of them.  What else could he mean by "Biblical Womanhood"?[8]  He's an asshole for that and probably many more reasons.

I hope you'll join me in buying Girl Scout Cookies this year, and then tweeting pictures of the purchase to Kevin Swanson[9].  I want him to know just how much his hate has backfired.  I want this asshole to know he's helped the Girl Scouts, not hurt.

Personally, I'll be sending him pictures[10] of my future Sara Bareilles purchases as well.

If you can't support any of them financially, following them on social media supports them in its way.

Girl Scouts[11]: Twitter[12] & Facebook[13].

Sara Bareilles[14]:  Twitter[15] & Facebook[16].

National Planned Parenthood[17]Twitter[18] & Facebook[19]

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland[20], where I send donations directly:  Twitter[21]Facebook[22]

However you choose to support any of these, please let Kevin Swanson know you've done so.  Maybe even thank him pointing you toward them to let him know how much he's helped them.

2.  href="

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Radio Host Gives "Psychic" His Due While Others Promote Them

Morning radio in Omaha could use a dose of skepticism.  I wish we had more hosts like Minnesota's Cory Cove.  A "psychic" was in his studio, and Cory let the guy have it[1].

98.5's Pat & JT[2] have an astrologer on regularly. 94.1 frequently has Rebecca Rosen[3] on to pretend to talk to the dead relatives of the grieving.  Both stations have "Psychic Andy"[4] on to spew his bullshit[5].  Pat & JT are even promoting him and some other forms of nonsense during an event they're calling “Pat and JT: After Dark!”[6].  They're somehow affiliated with the Twitter account @OmaHaunts[7] that exists to promote nonsense.

This is the actual video they're saying is evidence of this bullshit[8].

Media outlets are promoting this crap in my town.  While they're not journalists, they should still at least be held to the standard of basic reality.

By promoting frauds like Rosen & Andy, they're doing real harm.  They lend credibility to scams.  People spend hard earned money on this shit, while foregoing real help.  Especially dangerous is the "healing" Andy & his sister offer[9].
Holistic Healings
This service is for those who have suffered long enough and are not seeing results from Western medicine.  Its for those who want to be proactive in enhancing their positive personal energy. Energy Transfer by Elizabeth is a hands-off approach to healing which means she does not touch you as she does the energy work. She is able to pull the negative energy causing aches, pains, emotional blockages and replace it with positive, healing energy that brings you back to your true potential.

Elizabeth Myers
$55 Pet Energy Sessions- House calls
*Discounted price for Cancer patients- Call The Center for more info
It's disturbing to think about how many people, with real cancer, have skipped real medicine and instead let this quack pretend to do "energy work", whatever the fuck that is.  People die because this fraud is allowed.

Contact information for Pat & JT & Q 98.5:
Studio Hotline: 402-962-9898
Business Line: 402-342-2000

Channel 94.1:
Contact Page[13]
Phone:  402-938-9400

These stations should be ashamed of themselves for promoting fraud.  Good thing for me, there's other radio stations for those rare times I'm actually listening to terrestrial radio.  Because I won't be listening to either of these while they still have this shit on their air.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Sometimes Companies Fix Errors With Class

Part of my morning routine involves checking a small Facebook list I have that includes Shirt.Woot's page[1], so I can see what new t-shirt they have available.  This morning, they had an interesting new pair of shirts[2].

Maybe you noticed the same limitation I did.  It leaves out homosexuals.  Other Woot members noticed the same thing, and spoke up about it on the comments section[3].  So what did Woot do about it?

They fixed it[4]  by adding 2 new options[5], gave them the 1st day price for the first 24 hours, and will have all 4 available on the same page after that.

It makes me happy when a place where I spend money does something inclusive.  It's not that I'd have boycotted[6] them if they hadn't fixed it.  To be honest, I likely wouldn't have even noticed.  But that just makes this that much better.

Well done, Shirt Woot peoples.