Sunday, May 25, 2014

La Vista, Nebraska Mayor: "Minorities Will Not Run My Town"

My father was in the Air Force for 20 years, and continued to serve after his retirement until his premature death.  I have numerous other friends & family who have served.  I had intended to join the military myself until various health issues took that option away from me. 

So I have nothing against people honoring the sacrifices of those who did not make it home how they fit, on their own.  If people want to do this in a religious service, they should definitely be allowed to do this.  But not government.

The City of La Vista (the suburb of Omaha I live in) disagrees.

This kind of religious service is particularly offensive because they're using Memorial Day to get away with it.  They started by having a police captain read the names of soldiers who had died in the line of duty.

As I took this, he got to the name Lonnie Allen, who I went to 6th grade with. The street up to Birchcrest Elementary in Bellevue is named for him.  I don't claim to have been close to him.  But I knew him and liked him.  I was sad when I learned he had died.

On the way out, I attempted to discuss the issue with my mayor, so a civil resolution to this violation of the Constitution could be reached.  His immediate response was, "Take me to fucking court because I don't care."

I responded to that by saying that I was hoping to resolve this civilly.  His response to that was to walk away from me while saying "Minorities are not going to run my city."

Thanks to Be Secular for the perfect shirt for this
When (not if) I challenge this, I'll be accused of not supporting the troops.  The fact that it's not true won't matter.

I'll be told that this is a Christian nation.  The fact that it's not true won't matter.

I'll be accused of trying to force my atheism on them.  The fact I am just as opposed to an atheist government as I am a Christian government won't matter.

I'll be accused of violating their religious freedom.  The fact that this city sponsored church service is not within their religious freedom won't matter.  The fact that this service violates my religious freedom won't matter.

But none of that matters to me.  I can take the abuse from the Christians.  What matters to me is that is wrong.  What matters to me is that my minority status is irrelevant.  Civil rights and the Constitution are for everyone, not just the majority.

They're free to worship as they wish.  Just keep it out of my government.

I don't want to sue my own city any more than I wanted to cussed at and demeaned by my mayor.  Hopefully he'll be more open to having civil discussion before we get to that point.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why I'm An Activist - Mother's Day Edition

I'm not typically one for holidays or big displays of affection, but I do make exceptions when I think it matters and where I think it's deserved.  It's quite deserved in this instance.  You don't get to choose your parents, and I count myself lucky to have the mother I got.

I see far too many instances of mother's attempting to force decisions of varying kinds onto their children.  Gay kids disowned.  Atheist children of religious parents cut off from all contact.  And even less serious things like trying to coerce a child into a particular career path or guilting children into things.

My mother's never done those things.  She's always supported me in what I do, even when she's disagreed.  She still speaks up when she finds it necessary but has always gone out of her way to make sure my decisions are my own.  She's Christian and has never, in any way, attempted to proselytize to me or otherwise make me feel bad about being atheist.

I know far too many people who cannot say the same about their parents.  I cannot relate to the countless horror stories I read of abusive parents.  It is for this reason, that I'm an activist.  This world needs more people to grow up as fortunate as I did.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Lesson In Poe's Law - An Open Letter To Wannabe Satirists

Today, I learned that the Smithsonian was planning an exhibit on atheism in America.  Unfortunately, I learned this from an article announcing its cancellation.  When some Christians learned about it, they launched a campaign to stop it.  A campaign that included death threats.  Except, not really.  The article was not real.  It was (an attempt at) satire.

This is an all too common thing I've been encountering.  Websites with fake news like are often mistaken as real.  Part of this is because people, including otherwise good skeptics, fail to vet these sites before sharing them.  But I think the bigger problem is these sites themselves.  The goal of these sites seems to be satire.  The result is them simply making shit up.

This Smithsonian story is believable because it's plausible.  It sounds a lot like something that could actually happen.  That's not good satire.  Good satire is readily recognizable as satire.  You don't succeed in lampooning anyone but yourself when you successfully trick your reader into thinking what you wrote was true.

Poe's Law states:
Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.
It's based on the premise that we're so used to extremists doing the unbelievable, that we're likely to believe they've done just about anything.  In other words, the point they want to make (that these people are extremists) is already understood by just about everyone.  Or as Jamie Kilstein put it at the Reason Rally, "Everyone already knows Pat Robertson is an asshole!"

If the goal of these sites is to bring to light the shitty things that extremists are doing, they're missing the mark.  By repeatedly misleading people for their own attention, all they accomplish is damage to the credibility of the real reports.  The more people learn they'd been tricked by reports that appeared real, the harder it becomes to get attention to incidents of actual extremism.

For both things you could be attempted, you're bad at it.  If you write for one of these sites, and it's not The Onion, please just stop.  You're not helping.  You're making a mess of things.  We have enough bullshit flowing around the Internet.  We don't need you adding to it.

Leave the satire and parody to The Onion and Stephen Colbert.  Leave the bullshit to people like Fox News.  And leave the outing of the assholes to places like Media Matters and Right Wing Watch.

Monday, May 5, 2014

About Omaha Atheists' Response To Vandalism

Omaha Atheists have been doing highway cleanup for several years.  Last weekend, a few days before our scheduled cleanup day, we found something unfortunate on our sign.

I was surprised it took that long for something atheist to get vandalized around here.  That surprise is part of the problem.  When the Omaha Coalition of Reason billboard was up a couple years ago, the most that happened was people bitching about it.  When that billboard went up, I was fully expecting something to happen it like happens to a great number of atheist billboards.

Atheists are still a stigmatized group.  We're far from the majority, but people are still threatened by us enough to do things like this.  I could speculate about why this particular incident happened, but speculation is all it would be.  Whether it's an effort to bully us and remind us that we're hated, a bored teenager, or just someone who drives by this sign every day and couldn't take seeing the word "atheist" one more time, it doesn't really matter as much as the fact that this is common.

That's what makes Omaha Atheists' response to this so spot on[1].

Photo Credit:  Omaha Atheists

We're doing this by having an event called "Meet An Atheist" next Monday at local coffee shop Caffeine Dreams.  Even if the vandal doesn't show up, maybe someone else will stop by and learn that atheists aren't such bad people.

Getting people to understand that is the mission of Omaha Atheists, and pretty much every other local atheist group out there.  Because we're definitely not going anywhere.

We still cleaned up the highway.

Photo Credit:  Biblename Foto
And when we do it again this Fall, there will likely be a clean sign there.  Paid for by the taxpayers of Nebraska, which I suspect includes our vandal.

Also, thanks to Fox 42 for reporting on this issue:

1.  I'm slightly biased, as I was involved in that being approach, but it was a decision that took no debate.