Saturday, March 31, 2012

April Fool's Day

April Fool's Cover, March 31, 1945

In honor of April Fool's Day tomorrow,  a fun little challenge.

See if you can find the 51 mistakes or "fools" in this painting by Norman Rockwell.

Also, the calendar on the tree mentions Monday, April 1, 1945 when apparently April 1 fell on Sunday that year, just like this year.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Women Are Not An Interest Group

President Obama's remarks March 29, 2012 to Planned Parenthood Supporters.

"Women are not an interest group"  <- It is hard to believe that this needed to be said, but...it needed to be said!  Thank you, Mr. President, for saying it.

I hope this is only the start of a sustained and principled stand for women's rights from the President.

Thank Gods It's Freyaday!




Greetings humans!  I am Freya.

I am shy, but not shrinking.  I am occasionally skittish, but never spineless.

I am the Queen of my domain.  I am strong, capable and beautiful.

I am Freya.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Women, Be Fearless!



On Shakesville, Melissa McEwan now and then posts a photo of my idol, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  She made a joke about how often she posts these photos and several commenters echoed what I was thinking - she could post them every day and I might actually visit her blog even more often, not less often! Hillary is that much of a draw to me.

I was one of those housewives she did not choose to be like back in the 1990's (though my kids can tell you I was stronger on "exploring" and crafts than I was on baking cookies),  but I could not understand the uproar over her remarks back then.  That was my first glimpse into the hatred that conservative women have for progressive women and it was probably my first inkling of just how deep and complicated the schisms in American society have become. This will be one of many posts on this topic.

What Hillary was pointing to was the truth: in spite of the lie that we can "have it all", women can't be everything they would like to be - at least not at the same time - not really.  We can be full-time homemakers, but then we will not be respected as persons who have something to say outside of domestic issues.  We can be full-time employed workers (and obviously full-time moms still), but then we are vilified by the stay-at-home contingent as 'bad mothers'. Many of us can and must be something in between- struggling to be both full-time moms and part-time workers - and discovering the awful truth that we are not allowed to feel good about either of them. Hillary wanted to make a difference in this country, but she knew that in order to do that she would not be able to stay at home full-time, even if she had wanted to do so.

Many of us can and must be something in between- struggling to be both full-time moms and part-time workers - and discovering the awful truth that we are not allowed to feel good about either of them. 

I found Hillary refreshingly honest, admirably capable and formidably intelligent.  I knew what she was saying - women just don't get to do both of those things in our culture, not really, and she was speaking to that - I found her impressive and likable.  I heard in her remarks the painful conundrum that is a woman's experience in public life - no matter what she did, she was going to be wrong and ridiculed for even trying. And yet, she did keep working. She did continue to work and she did continue to put herself out there in public life. She has never stopped trying to make a difference for women in the world, and she has succeeded.

Women the world over are inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I am inspired by her.

I have so much I could write about Hillary.  And no doubt I will (I am just warming up, but I've got several posts started in the pipeline).  But I will spare you a long screed and just post short bits with awesome photos or videos whenever the mood strikes me!

Here is a short clip from the Women in the World summit held earlier this month at the Lincoln Center. Hillary urges women to be "fearless"in fighting for equality, justice and civil rights for women.  Coming from someone who has had to be fearless in the public sphere,  her words have particular power.

Isn't That Just Ducky!


video

I have been to the groomer! It was my first grooming! I am so -

Wait!  Who is that?  Who is that new dog?  Who?

Run, run, run, What? Who is that?  Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run.

I have been to the groomer! I am so excited!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Name Change

I realized last month that there was a (now defunct, apparently) blog of the same name as mine but without the "The".  Since that person's blog seems to be inactive, and the titles were not exactly the same, I decided to go with 'The Timid Atheist' because that name spoke directly to the heart of how I felt.

Last week, one of my daughters briefly thought that a post she saw on a blog I occasionally visit might have been mine.  The commenter's nym was Timid Atheist.  It wasn't me, but I thought to myself, "OK, this is hardly surprising. There are surely more of us out there!"  'Closeted atheists' is one of my most frequent post topics, after all.

Today, a commenter on a blog I visit daily also had the nym Timid Atheist (it may even have been the commenter from last week).  For all I know, that person has had the moniker Timid Atheist a lot longer than I have had my blog.

So, to avoid any confusion,  I am changing the blog name to Nifty Atheist.  This was my default choice anyway and is actually my blogger address name, so it probably makes more sense anyway.

And, best of all, I don't feel so timid anymore!  I feel brave and inspired. Blogging will do that for you!


Midweek Madness - Stand Your Ground

Cartoon by Matt Bors for comics at Daily Kos

I'd like to be able to write with eloquence and insight about the events surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin, but I simply cannot.  A roundup of news and views will have to suffice.  My apologies. 


CBS is reporting this morning that the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin has been dialed back to 'start'. 


CNN reports witnesses remarks about the shooting. 


The blogosphere has been lit up with discussion, outrage and horror over the incident.  I am linking to some of the ones that I found thoughtful and/or thought-provoking. 


Al Stefanelli, as usual, forces you to think from a slightly different angle.  Why George Zimmerman hasn't been arrested yet. 


The Digital Cuttlefish summarizes the terrible quandary of black youth in verse, and recaps with links to other FTbloggers. Headline Muse


Melissa McEwan provides updates at Shakesville.  Trayvon Martin Updates.

Here is the full text of the Florida statute known as the "Stand your ground" law.  The full text reveals the language which might provide loopholes for a person determined to use this law to commit legal murder, in spite of passages which reflect what one would hope was the real intent of the law.  (Emphasis mine)

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. 

                                                              and:

776.031 Use of force in defense of others.A person is justified in the use of force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on, or other tortious or criminal interference with, either real property other than a dwelling or personal property, lawfully in his or her possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his or her immediate family or household or of a person whose property he or she has a legal duty to protect. However, the person is justified in the use of deadly force only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person does not have a duty to retreat if the person is in a place where he or she has a right to be.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mother Nature Wept

Thousands of dead jellyfish wash up on South Carolina beach, 26 March 2012






























On a stroll along a local beach yesterday, my son took the photo above. Thousands of dead jellyfish had washed ashore and were scattered in a broad swath along (at least) eleven miles of South Carolina coast. Not visible in the photo are the thousands of sand dollars which had met a similar fate. Since we had never seen anything like this in the fifteen years that we have been visiting this coast, I expressed my dismayed concern and wondered out loud what could have caused such a massive die off.

My intelligent and intellectually curious son explained to me that many marine animals are very sensitive to what may seem like slight variations in sea temperature or other features of their ocean habitat. The mass deaths of a significant population of two species at the same time probably points to an unusual shift in temperature or some other environmental factor which can probably be measured - as long as there are scientists presently employed to record and study such events.

As my son and I discussed the possible causes of this die off of marine life forms, I was reminded once more of the strangely misogynistic, yet laughably stupid anthropomorphism of natural events that seems to be so much a part of theism.  The kernel of a disturbing idea began to sprout in my mind as I realized that the tendency of the religious to blame "Mother Nature" for natural disasters serves an even darker purpose than I first realized.

My son appreciates and understands that scientific research is important to our understanding of ecosystems on our planet. He makes a point to learn about the world around him. Fundamentalist religionists believe that everything they need to know about the world can be found in their holy books. They make a point not to learn about the world around them if it might in any way contradict their holy books.  More chillingly, they attempt to suppress any knowledge that cannot be found in their holy books. Knowledge which they fear might undermine the "truth" they believe is contained within those pages - thus reducing the power wielded by those who claim to be able to interpret "god's word" - must be resisted.

The obvious example of this deliberate ignorance is the denial of the fact of evolutionary biology by religious fundamentalists. For well over a century, devout Christians in the developed world have not only refused to accept the truth of evolutionary theory, but have actively worked to ban the teaching of evolutionary science in public schools.  Less obvious to me was the connection between fundamentalist religiosity and climate change denial. Yesterday, a flashbulb went off in my mind.

The increased frequency of storms and other unpleasant natural phenomena is caused by global climate change. Global climate change, in turn, is an effect caused by many factors including the impact of human behavior on the planet. There is virtually no controversy within the scientific community on this point. The vast majority of the world's scientists have concluded that it is human behavior which has rapidly increased the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greatly speeding up what should be a 10-20,000 years long natural warming cycle of the planet. The evidence is undeniable. Yet, people deny it.

The stupidity - the apparent insanity - of climate change denial can be somewhat understood in the context of the overarching irrationality of theism.  Some of the most committed climate change denial comes from theists. More specifically, climate change denial is asserted by pseudo-scientific groups created by theists to generate sciency-sounding "explanations" for natural events that can be squeezed into the tiny, primitive scope of their religious texts. These groups, with legitimate-sounding names like The Discovery Institute are financed by an unholy alliance of churches and corporations which benefit from climate change denial through lax environmental protections.

Some corporations - notably energy corporations - have long been fighting a dirty war of obfuscation and outright lies against the global consensus of experts that the human impact on climate change is real. Energy corporations have spent millions over the decades lobbying against environmental protection legislation and enlisting the help of scientists-for-hire to argue against the mounting scientific evidence that global warming is an urgent concern and it is greatly hastened by the consumption of fossil fuels.

Your friendly "environmental
think tank" sponsor
The "global climate change" issue really warmed up in the 1980's just as the religious right was beginning to enjoy the fruits of its own campaign of lies and fear-mongering to change public opinion on various social issues. It seems that corporate and religious leaders realized in those early days of the current war on liberalism that if they joined forces on the climate change issue, there could be benefits for them both. The energy corporations needed the religious groups to lend moral legitimacy to their greed. The religious groups wanted access to the political power that wealthy corporations have long enjoyed.

Another factor in the fundamentalist Christian role in climate change denial is that the fact that human activity can change the natural cycle of our planet flies in the face of Bible-based creationism. Just like the theory of evolution, the theory of global climate change threatens theists' core belief system. So, just like evolution, acceptance of climate change must be not only denied, but as widely suppressed as possible.

Exactly as with the theory of evolution, the suppression methods of choice were the introduction of false evidence to plant doubt, the hiring of unscrupulous "scientists" to refute both the evidence and the consensus of the worldwide scientific community, and the use of growing political power to prevent accurate teaching about global climate change in public schools while fighting to cut funding to scientific research on the subject. In churches and Bible-studies, Christians were primed with sciency-sounding "research", backed up with scripture, to entrench doubts about global warming in particular and the scientific community in general.

How should a Christian view global warming?

A god of constant sorrows
Elected officials usually will not risk revealing their religious biases by publicly attributing tornados or hurricanes to a god's wrath, unlike some religious celebrities, but they communicate the supernatural message anyway by mentioning "Mother Nature", instead.  Subversively deifying a storm is a fiendishly clever way of spreading the meme that climate research is pointless: nothing for science to see here! A god did it! Disguising the mythical male deity in a malevolent, amoral female persona, thus reinforcing the institutionalized and systemic misogyny of religion in the same stroke, is just an added bonus.

Contrary to the bizarrely slanderous opinion of Mitch Daniels and company, however, Mother Nature is not an unpredictable pseudo-deity who "chooses" to lash at the earth (and its hapless inhabitants) whenever her cruelly capricious whims move her to do so. That would be another, more popular, imaginary deity. Gov. Daniels obviously had Mother Nature confused with his own viciously violent imaginary friend.

"Mother" Nature does not exist.  Only "Nature" is a real thing in this world, and it is neither cruel nor capricious. Nature has no intentionality because it is not a being, not a deity, not a self-conscious, supernatural force. No matter how powerfully humankind may wish there to be gods (even a "natural" god like "Mother Nature"), nor how fervently theists may claim we must be "hardwired" to look for evidence of consciousness in the random events in the universe, there is nothing of the sort. Nor, in my opinion, should we waste precious energy wishing for such a thing to exist.

Nature simply is.  It is the wondrous and amazing interactions of natural phenomena which make up this vast universe.  Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; droughts and floods: blizzards, hurricanes and tornados - these are all scientifically explainable events. They are the natural effects of natural causes. And that is far more interesting and amazing than any manmade gods.

Some interesting reading:

The truth about denial, Sharon Begley, Newsweek (13 August 2007)

Evangelical Christians deeply divided..., Heather Goldstone, climatide.org (31 May 2011)

Explosion in jellyfish numbers may lead to ecological disaster, The Guardian, (11 June 2011)

Why conservative white males..., Julia Pyper, scientificamerican.com (5 October 2011)

Greenland icebergs breaking off..., Charles Q. Choi, ourAmazingPlanet.com (11 December 2011)

Marine ecology: Attack of the blobs,  Mark Schrope, nature.com, (1 February 2012)

Climate Change: A planet in flux,  John P. Smol, nature.com (29 February 2012)

Ocean Science: The power of plankton,  Paul Falkowski, nature.com (29 February 2012)

And algae shall inherit the earth, Chris Hillier, Trade Secrets (blog), via nature.com (20 March 2012)

Damn you,  Mother Nature!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky?



I may look like a cartoon dog, but I am as real as can be!

I play and play. I run and bark and chase toys.  I also snuggle and cuddle, all fluffy and cute.

I may look like a cartoon dog, but I am as real as can be!

Isn't that just Ducky?

Isn't That Just Ducky!



I have a new haircut! I feel light and lively!

I have a sock monkey. I can see the monkey!  I can play with the monkey!

I have a new haircut!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Reason Rally Coverage - Part 3

Could next year's Reason Rally look like this?  Hell yeah!

Hate to be dragging this out over days, but some video links have been hard to come by.  P.Z. Myers helpfully provided a link to video of his talk at the Reason Rally this morning.  Until now, these videos had been scarcer than hen's teeth.  There is going to be an official spiffy Rally video released later, so I can sort of see why it has been so difficult.

But here's the thing:  the excitement is out there right now.  We need to use that energy to spread the encouraging message that was sent to closeted atheists everywhere on Saturday now.  The official video will be great, I am sure, and I will certainly be buying a copy of it (or downloading if it is freely accessible - which I hope it will be (are you listening Reason Rally organizers?).

First up,  P.Z. Myers, the tentacled overlord of Pharyngula fame (blog link on the right).


HuffPost's recap of the rally, with photos.

Julian Baggini published an atheist "manifesto" in the Guardian (U.K.) which I have not yet read in full, but which looks meaty and interesting. There is a 'Series: Heathens Progress' above the author's byline and under the Guardian banner which gave me a momentary thrill.  Could heathenish writing actually have scored series status in the U.K. media?  Excellent, if true!

Canada's National Post has published a story about Richard Dawkins' talk at the Reason Rally.

The Friendly Atheist made a herculean effort and posted a Rally recap with his impressions, photos and videos.

USA Today published a hatchet job using every atheist trope the hopelessly bigoted Religion writer could cram into the piece. I only include such verbal excrement in the interest of fair and balanced reporting. :-/

Video of Tim Minchin has been really hard to find online, but Kylee Sturgess (Token Skeptic) managed to find this one from UStream (David Singer). The first 58 seconds are broken (perhaps Penn Jillette broke it, heh) but then it works and Tim Minchin's bit comes right after:


Video streaming by Ustream

When You Get Garbage Email



You know how from time to time, we all receive group or chain emails which are sometimes cute but often pretty annoying?  Sometimes it is a harmless fluff piece about friendship (Celebrate Girlfriends!) or a sweet little piece about family relationships (Celebrate our wonderful moms/ dads/ aunts/ uncles/ sons/ daughters!). Often it is an urgent communiqué bursting with homeopathic woo or simple common sense (This secret may save your life! <Drink more water ;)>), but let's be honest:  more often than not, these mass mailings are right-wing rants about the unpatriotic liberal/ commie/ socialist/ godless/ not really American/ OBAMA-monster!

"It" again?!
These screeds don't just clutter up your INBOX.  They don't just stink up mine. They infest email inboxes all over the country - all over the world - and they spread dirty lies.  They are sent via email "trees" to thousands of people who receive them from people they trust. Some of the recipients may just delete these emails without opening them, but many others' attention is snagged by the catchy subject lines, so they open the emails and read the poisonous contents. All too usually, the recipients suspend their disbelief. They suspend all critical thinking skills. They accept these vile messages as gospel truth because it comes to them from a friend or relative. None of us wants to believe that a trusted source like a friend or relative would send us frightening or disgusting lies, and most of us still hold fast to the "where there is smoke, there is fire" folk wisdom. These groups depend on that general tendency to trust; they create the smoke using unconscious and conscious bigotry, photoshop and sheer blatant lies. Then they disseminate the disgusting product throughout the inter web via unsuspecting networks of friends, coworkers and families.

Most progressives simply delete these awful emails and try not to think of them when we see the friends or relatives who sent or forwarded them to us. But is there something more we could or should be doing?  I am inclined to think that yes, we could and, more importantly, we should do something more about this. These emails are not benign.  They are not in the same league as the "Let's celebrate girlfriends!" chain mail, but I think the strategy is to have them fly under the radar pretending to be just as harmless and/or benignly "informative" as those.
What?! 

No. These emails are like the spreading of a cancer.  Email tree chains quickly spread to thousands and then millions of people. This is a propaganda tool which we have ignored at our peril.  Most of the time, we ignore it because we do not want uncomfortable confrontations with friends or relatives. But here's the thing: the groups spreading this vicious garbage are counting on that.

I think there is at least one way that we can fight back.  One way to counteract this sort of vicious campaign of lies which most progressives can get behind.  Fight the lies with - it's so obvious - the truth!  Of course, if it were that simple, the truth would have worked all along.  Unfortunately, people who are caught up in this sort of chain mailing propaganda - mail coming from trusted friends and relatives remember - are often caught with their guards down, therefore prime targets for lies and smear tactics.

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.George Orwell

Getting people to accept the truth - when it contradicts what trusted friends and relatives are telling them - is a challenge, but it can be done.

 Photo may cause apoplexy
Here is advice I've adapted from the excellent methods shared by Aratina Cage, a blogger and frequent commenter on Pharyngula.  I think it is brilliant.

-Create an anonymous email account (a nice touch - and truthful! - might be to give your new email account a patriotic-sounding moniker. Something like trueblueamerican@?mail.com). You will have to give the email server your info, but the recipients of the mass emails will just see the patriotic sender's address.  Maintain your usual email for your regular email.

-Generate a new mass emailing to all recipients of the original obnoxious "patriotic" hate email. Include yourself and the sender of the original email.

-Copy and paste the Time cover photo of Obama and Reagan (pictured left).

-Beneath the picture, remind the recipients that President Obama is the current head of state,  and you just know that they are all very interested in his accomplishments.

-Helpfully provide links to political tracking sites such as PolitiFact.  The Obameter there keeps track of the President's accomplishments and his fulfillment of campaign promises. It also keeps track of where he has failed to deliver.

-Encourage the recipients to keep tabs on the President's daily activities via the White House Blog. There, they will be kept informed of news, videos and ideas directly from the administration.

-Last, provide a link to Snopes where you can urge the recipients to fact-check chain emails to be sure that  they are always armed with the truth and can never be fooled by fiction presented as fact.

-Keep everything in a file labeled "nuisance emails" and repeat every time you receive a propaganda email.

Aratina Cage has come up with a great idea and I plan to start using it immediately.  In fact, I now find that I welcome these types of emailings!  With this method, freethinkers and progressives can refute the destructive, fear-mongering false claims of the anti-Obama reactionaries using their own methods.  And for those of us who shy away from confrontation with relatives and friends, it is all anonymous.

These mass emailings spread lies and frighteningly damaging propaganda. It's time to fight fire with water. Or, more appropriately perhaps, we ought to fight filthy garbage with powerful cleansers!

(Courtesy of chigau, Pharyngula commenter) Check out the name on the plumbing truck the white knight is charging towards. Classic:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reason Rally - Highlights Video

Reason Rally Coverage - Part 2


Continuing the roundup of all the media coverage and blog posts I can find about the Reason Rally.

Greta Christina and Taslima Nasrin (via UStream, David Singer):


Video streaming by Ustream

Links to articles in print and online:

Godless and proud...  WTOP Washington DC radio

The Chicago Tribune has a good Q&A piece with Nate Phelps which is worth reading.

Global Post internet news feed has a brief article.

Interestingly, Al Jazeera (mentioned in comments downblog) posted a brief story with video.

The Washington Post story with photo slideshow is one of the better ones.

The Atlantic posted a story mainly focused on Richard Dawkins' involvement in the rally.

More video:

Mythbusters' Adam Savage:


UP With Chris Hayes - Atheism


Link to the show.

This deserves its own post.  Check out the link here to this morning's program on MSNBC, UP with Chris Hayes.  The segment is entitled Atheism,  and may have been inspired by the Reason Rally yesterday in Washington DC.

Chris Hayes' guests included Richard Dawkins, Jamila Bey, Stephen Pinker and others, including a Christian pastor, Mike Aus, who came out as an atheist.

This is television that matters.  Kudos to Hayes.

The link goes to a page with lots of links and video with the entire program broken up into manageable segments.  There are also links to related interviews and stories.  I haven't finished it myself yet (parenting duties, don'tcha know), but I look forward to finishing tonight.  I did not want to wait until then to post this, though.

Link, again.  Enjoy!

Yay! Reason Rally Coverage! Part 1

Reason Rally 2012: Attendance reports vary: 10,000 - 20,000 according to parks district.

Washington Post article 'Godless' rally for recognition...

Greta Christina's exhilarated and uplifting post on the Reason Rally here.
"If you came to the Reason Rally, and you do just one thing for atheism that you haven’t done before? If you tell one person that you’re an atheist? If you start wearing atheist T-shirts? If you start crossing “In God We Trust” off your money? If you start hanging out with your local atheist group? If you organize one event with the local atheist group you already hang out with? If you donate money to one atheist organization? If you run for public office as an out atheist? If you start re-tweeting things about atheism?
If you do just one thing for atheism that you haven’t done before… this movement will be radically changed."

Mythbusters' Adam Savage's excellent speech here.

Nate Phelp's speech:



Richard Dawkins (via David Singer):


Video streaming by Ustream

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!


In celebration of the early and effusive bursting of the new season.
Happy Spring!

No Rally Coverage

(Update: Reason Rally coverage! Here and here and here and here and here! Go read and celebrate!)

I cannot believe this.  I have been searching all over the internet - on every news service I can think of, as well as google and similar - and I cannot find a single current news story or article about the Reason Rally.

Right now on CNN - on the NewsRoom, no less - two anchors are discussing bagels.  Bagels!  This right after a gripping story about "the Tupperware lady - a stay at home mom who has tips..." .

Nothing to see here (file photo)
WTF?  WTF?!   Does CNN actually consider bagels and Tupperware - along with recycled stories from the previous week - more newsworthy than the fact that thousands of marginalized citizens have gathered on the National Mall,  rallying from all over the country to send the message that we are here?

The lineup of speakers is impressive by any measure.  Even gutless CNN has featured many of them at various times - Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, Bill Maher, Tim Minchin, Eddie Izzard, James Randi, Dan Barker and many others.  Were these people lined up to speak at some other sort of event, it would certainly be newsworthy.  But, they are speaking at an explicitly atheist/humanist rally before thousands of people:  and the media reaction?  Crickets.

Back to CNN.  Now, a brief blurb on the anti-Affordable Healthcare act protest in Washington today.

Finally!  Coverage of events in Washington DC today!

But wait!

Unbelievable. Still not a word breathed about the much larger Reason Rally.

Let's review: Not a word all day about the Reason Rally - a large gathering in Washington DC on the national Mall, featuring dozens of prominent speakers and performers and attended by thousands of freethinkers, atheists and humanists from all over the country.  Contrast this with the repeated coverage of the pro-religion rally against the president's Affordable Care Act, giving airtime and publicity to the position of those opposed to Healthcare reform.

Fair, balanced, honest journalism?  I think not.

Is it really much of a stretch to say that this country has lost any true fourth estate?  The integrity of journalism in this country has long been in question,  as blatantly propagandist "news/entertainment" organizations (e.g. Fox) have sprung up all over the cable channels.  Still, a few networks still claim to be actual places of real journalism.  CNN, the major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC) and PBS still claim to stick to actual objective journalism.

Let's examine two similar events and the media response to them.  Last year, when the famously fractious and divisive Glenn Beck held his religious rally in Washington, there was blanket coverage across all major media outlets.  Today, when a similar-sized crowd of people converges on the capital to speak for the marginalized, the oppressed and the threatened in our society - absolute, total silence.  Worse than silence: they air filler stories about "Twilight", "Tupperware" and "Bagels" as if there is simply nothing newsworthy going on today.

The loss of reason and common sense in the public sphere is something that has concerned freethinkers for a long time.  Only recently have people begun to notice and worry about the loss of the fourth estate.  A free press is one of the cornerstones of any free democratic republic. It helps to check the abuse of power by the government, by the wealthy and by the well-connected. When the media itself is owned by or kowtowing to a few powerful groups, the society has lost an important voice for justice and security.


Where Is The Reason Rally Coverage?

I'm disappointed to report that there has been very little in front page print media or online from major news sources about the Reason Rally so far.  I hope that this situation improves through the day.

There is one interesting thing to link to, however.  This "belief blog" post on CNN's back pages talks about the Reason Rally as a moment for atheists in this country to come out - there is a video featuring Richard Dawkins, too.  And this one, posted yesterday, features Dave Silverman of American Atheists (one of the main organizers of the Rally).

The most interesting part is that there are well over 2000 comments below these two blog posts lost in the obscurity of CNN's back pages.  CNN blogs rarely garner huge numbers of comments, especially this quickly. (Compare the comment number for these two entries with comments for the posts immediately preceding and following them). As usual, just the very idea of atheism sparks irrational outrage and backlash from theists.  Most of the usual angry atheist/immoral godless tropes are dutifully trotted out in these comments.

Don't read them unless you want your day ruined!

Updated to Add:  Mano Singham from FTB linked these three stories earlier this week.

Nonbelievers pull together... (The Washington Times)

Reason Rally, Religious freedom rally... (The Washington Post)

Atheists to cheer for godless USA... (USA Today)

ETA:  Found this old post on Yahoo...with over 9,000 comments:

Atheists holding Reason Rally in Washington DC this weekend...

And this amusing example of "up is down, good is bad" rationalization from FauxNews:

Why the Reason Rally is unreasonable   In there, you will find the usual accusations that atheists are arrogant and self-important,  coming from those who believe that they know everything that needs to be known in the universe and that the earth, all of its living forms and the entire universe exists solely for their benefit.  Classic.

I am of the opinion that articles like this from the "folks" at Faux is confirmation that they are aware that their ability to keep people in fear and ignorance is waning at long last.  Reasonable people are standing up and that is making the right wing extremists - including their political arm, the Republican party and their chief propaganda arm, Fox media - very nervous.

Reason Rally Today!


Today is the day! Atheists, freethinkers and people who value truth and science will be pouring into Washington DC and filling the national Mall with the sounds of great music, inspiring speakers and intelligent conversation.  The Reason Rally has arrived!

I will be watching the various news outlets for coverage of this important event.  Other, patently stupid events received huge media coverage, so I expect at least as much media attention for the Reason Rally.

Whatever happens, though, it is sure to be an exciting day for the participants (estimated crowds could be as large as 30,000-50,000 people!) and an eye-opener for those closeted atheists in the rest of the country who still think they are alone.

NPR's Woodstock for Atheists (March 23, 2012).



Friday, March 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Freedom



This post may not be complete - I happen to be the same very busy woman™ that I am in NiftyUniverse - but I will do my best right now to get the kernels of a few ideas out there.

As promised yesterday,  I'm going to provide a few links to some good articles about current political events, especially the horrifying bombardment of oppressive and degrading legislation that is currently raining down on women in the so-called modern, progressive and "free" developed world.

Something I have been noticing with relief is that more and more people are beginning to connect the dots between all the talk about freedom by Republicans and the actual threat to individual freedoms in this country which is the goal of the Republican agenda.  Many free thinkers have been grumbling about this agenda for years, while never seeming to quite believe that the extreme right wing could actually succeed in stripping away individual rights and freedoms.

Even when George W Bush was installed in the White House and set about fulfilling his promises to the wealthy and powerful religious and corporate elites to whom he owed his ascension to the presidency, many people could not seriously believe that the checks and balances of government power, coupled with the guarantees for individual rights and freedoms, could be strategically defeated by a determined and power-hungry enemy of long-held American ideals.  People just could not believe that "it could happen here", and those who were talking and writing about it were ridiculed and marginalized as "conspiracy nuts".

But you know,  sometimes there really is a conspiracy, and sometimes it only takes a few hours reading history to understand and remember that fact.  Great civilizations before us were blindsided by what looked like suddenly rising dictators, but who were in fact the inevitable victors in a patient game of political maneuvering using the very ideals that people cherish - turned upside down and inside out - to undermine the glue which supports the society, concentrate power into a few very closely linked hands, and render an entire population suddenly bereft of the world they knew and understood.  The tragedy is that the people themselves are used as the foot soldiers in the war against themselves. They are persuaded to give up their own freedoms and destroy their own country from within, leaving a damaged shell for the fascist cabal to take over and begin to rule.

We are not kidding ourselves any longer, though. Freethinkers and progressives everywhere are now sounding the alarm as Republican lawmakers are pounding the country with wave after wave of anti-woman, anti-individual, anti-non Christian legislation. This unprecedented attack on individual freedom is all the more vicious and cynical when one sees it couched by the aggressors in language about "protecting freedom".  Fortunately for us all, more people are beginning to wake up and notice because of the horrors that are playing out in state houses across the country right now. Attacks on women's reproductive freedom, attempts to disenfranchise the poor and the frightening rise in legislation allowing discrimination by religious and economic elites on the basis of gender, religion and race have finally begun to make the complacent sit up and take notice.

These things had their genesis long ago, however. Like fascists throughout history, the unholy alliance of the extreme religious right and the extreme libertarian right have used the propaganda machine they have created very cleverly.  In his book American Fascists, Chris Hedges talks about how this was an official strategy of the religious right, using the (very willing) Republican party as its political arm, to create an American theocracy.  In The Family, Jeff Sharlet further explains the determination and careful organization of this far from recent strategy to subvert the American Constitution, dismantle the governmental checks and balances and create a theocratic state run, of course, by their own organization.

There is another post in every one of these paragraphs, but my time is really limited this week, so I am going to have to post links and keep coming back to these topics in shorter bursts.

Timothy Egan, the Opinionator, published a good piece in the New York Times which zeroes in directly on this subject of how the Republican party is turning the idea of freedom on its head for its own gain.

The appalling upside-down morality is front and center in this guest post in the Washington Post, but this comment (and other excellent comments), as well as the glimpse into the mindset of the theists who are attacking the country, makes it worth reading:

"By placing a financial burden on female employees that the mandate is meant to remove, the Catholic church is violating both the rights and the conscience of those employees. It is an absurd exaggeration to claim that the church is being forced to provide contraceptives. The church is no more providing them than if they employee goes and purchases contraceptives themselves using money they were paid by the church. What the church is attempting to do is impede the ability of its female employees to exercise their own conscience and to receive coverage that the law has deemed they should receive. To claim this is a violation of religious freedom is both ignorant and disingenuous. You do not have a right to bully and burden your employees. The reproductive choices of your female employees is not your business. It is between them, their doctors, and their insurers. The church has no right to interfere. Chip_M"

Maureen Dowd's column Don't Tread on Us, also in the NYT is a week old but still worth re-reading.

Alison Catalano is another principled professional who has taken a stand against the attacks on women's health access. This San Antonio online news article covers it.  I am heartened to see people standing up to this legislative bullying, but I am appalled that individuals are having to risk their careers and their livelihoods to stand up for what is right and just.

Greg Laden of FTB has a brief post with video of the President's remarks (at last!) about the terrible murder of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin in Florida.  Black Skeptic Frederick Sparks also posted a very restrained update on the President's remarks also at FTB.  Scroll down his blog, however, to read more on the topic.  If you are not a person of color,  read the Black Skeptics' post about the burden racist paranoia places on minorities - especially, of course, young men of color in the USA.

As an antidote to the despair that the Trayvon Martin murder case might arouse, please read the brief summary, watch and enjoy this wonderful video Black Gold posted by Melissa McEwan on Shakesville.

Read Jen McCreight on the diversity of speakers at the Reason Rally - tomorrow! - and how important this rally is for making people aware that there are thousands of people like them in this country who are willing to stand up and come out in defense of reason, science and freedom from religion.

Finally, the Supreme Court is about to hear arguments for and against provisions in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare),  and whatever the Supremes decide could have far-reaching effects which could be pivotal for social justice in this country.  This is something people ought to be following.  Here is an overview with some information on how to stay abreast of developments next week.

More tomorrow!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring in Alabama?



Here is a piece of good news. Out of the winter of horrors for people who care about reproductive rights and the personhood of women, there comes this:

Spring in Alabama

And the blogger Whatever (Still Running Against the Wind) has posted an open letter from an anonymous ob/gyn who calls for doctors to defy the dehumanizing anti-woman bills (particularly the transvaginal ultrasound bills).

There is something very chilling about the fact that a doctor who is standing up for human rights - who wants to speak out against draconian legislation which is skating shockingly close to reducing women to sexual enslavement - must remain anonymous for his own professional and possibly personal safety.

I'm on vacation right now - spring break for the last chicks in the nest - so I have to soak up the time while I still have kids at home.  But I am going on a mission in my downtime to dig up as many of these sorts of stories as I can find and I will post links.

I'd like to believe the tide is turning,  but I'd like to do whatever I can to keep that momentum going.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!


I am on a road trip!

I am rollin' on down the road.  I am sailing, flying, ramblin' like a rolling stone.

I am on a road trip!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Watch This!



This is a documentary about atheists and it looks really good from the trailer.  I am not sure when it will be coming out (heh) but as soon as I do know I will post about it!

Several of the people featured in this trailer write blogs on freethoughtblogs.com and they are excellent blogs.  There are links to some of them in my sidebar. -->

Seriously, watch this.


Blarney At The Reason Rally?


I have a ton of work to do today (writing is my work of choice, but today it is physical work away from the computer which must be done!),  but reading P.Z. Myers' post this morning made it imperative that I post a "Heck, yeah!" post.

The Reason Rally is set for next week in Washington DC.  It has been the source of great excitement for people who care about science, justice and equality in this country.  Many of us have been thrilled to know that voices will be raised in defense of scientific rigor,  including medical science.  Further, many people expect that the rally is also meant to be a signal to right-wing hardliners that their anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-humanity agenda does not enjoy total, unopposed support in this country.

Best of all,  there is the fervent hope that closeted atheists, social moderates and people everywhere who have been cowed by the apparently overwhelming power of fundamentalist religion will take heart - and hopefully take action - when they see that there is a movement out there full of people of courage who will speak out for social justice, equal rights and protection from religiously-motivated oppression.

It turns out though that, in an apparent effort to attract a larger audience to the Rally, organizers have included some speakers whose credentials as "freethinkers"  are problematic at best and totally dishonest at worst. I don't think it will completely ruin the Rally, and I hope this strategy brings the event more attention than it alienates. But still, I agree with P.Z.:  There ought to be higher standards!

As a woman, I am appalled that Bill Maher - who routinely disrespects women -  is going to be a prominent speaker at the Rally.  Simply being atheist is not, in my opinion, an adequate credential to speak at an event which is meant to promote support for accurate science as well as social justice - reasonable goals, if you will.   Maher is known for pointing out the silliness of religion - poorly, in my opinion, and not effectively - but he is also known for being a shameless promoter of alternative medicine woo and anti-vaccinations.

Then, there is that little problem he has with women. -->

Even more troubling, the Rally has welcomed a video speech from Senator Tom Harkin.  I can understand that Reason Rally organizers would be pleased to have some voices of reason from within the federal government willing to speak at this event, but perhaps Senator Harkin is not the best choice for that.  P.Z.:

"This is a man who takes pride in being affiliated with a patriarchal, hierarchical, medieval institution that oppresses women, celebrates poverty, wallows in its own wealth and privilege, and has actively disseminated pedophiles into communities all around the world…and has worked hard to protect and defend these child rapists. This is an organization that is currently fighting for the right to refuse life-saving care to women, that even opposes making contraception available to men and women, thatendorses discrimination against gay couples.This is a man who pushed through the formation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative ‘Medicine’, a gigantic boondoggle that sucks federal research dollars out of the hands of qualified scientists studying real phenomena and into the hands of quacks and con artists peddling bogus therapies. This is a man who so poorly understands science that, when his pet quackeries all failed when examined,declared his disappointment because he said NCCAM was supposed to “validate alternative approaches”, and instead was “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”

Yeah. That Tom Harkin."

Interestingly, I was about to defend Sen. Harkin as perhaps a cultural Catholic (I can understand that!) but a Democrat who, like Kennedy, surely keeps his religion out of his office - and could even be, perhaps, a social moderate.

The source which made me want to say "Hang on a sec, there..." was this story in the Iowa paper, Quad City Times. According to the QCTimes, Harkin voted against the so-called "conscience clause"!

But then, knowing that journalistic rigor in news media these days is often subpar, I decided to look for other sources to cite before I let P.Z. have it with my puny outrage.  I found this, but who knows if that source had a liberal bias? heh.  So I went straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak and found this. Well, damn.  Looks like P.Z. Myers is right (again! damn you, P.Z.!).  Although Sen. Harkin did vote to repeal DADT,  there is a whole raft of other legislation that he was on board with which is really only a problem if you are for equal rights for women, and not for privileging religion with the right to deny human beings in this country basic civil rights.

That is a problem when you are organizing a rally to promote separation of church and state, rational approaches to medicine and science and social justice.  To tell the truth, it makes me wonder if these actually are the goals of Dave Silverman, et al.  Or could it be that, contrary to what this post of mine (and P.Z.s and a few others') seem to be assuming,  the goal isn't that the rally was meant to stand up for reason?

It is hard to figure out what is going on, but it seems that we are meant to believe that the organizers of the Reason Rally think getting some fuzzy-thinkers to appear to support this rally will be good for science, reason and social justice.  My blarney-radar is pinging, though.  Could it be that, on the contrary, it is the voices of reason who have been sucked into participating in a rally which may only promote some of the organizers while giving undeserved validatation to supporters of misogyny, homophobia and woo?

I still hope the Reason Rally is a huge success.  But, like others,  I worry that the message is getting fuzzier with the addition of people like this to the roster.  I get that the organizers want to attract a wide audience -  and people sure know who Bill Maher is, after all - but damn it is frustrating that even a Rally for Reason has to be watered down with connections to people who are known proponents of stupid anti-scientific woo and misogynistic / homophobic ideology.

Update: UGH!  Niftyfailure. I have been stuck on the computer trying to understand these confusing bills for an hour. It appears that the Iowa paper may have been correct, but the wording is deucedly difficult to understand.  It appears that Harkin did vote against the Blunt amendment,  but he did it by voting "Yes" to tabling the bill. So the news story says he voted against a conscience-clause -  which threw me when I saw that he had voted YEA on March 1.  Bloody obfuscating congressional launguage.

Now I have to update my post,  but the point remains that Harkin did vote for a whole raft of other anti-choice legislation and privileging of religion.  This quote in the Iowa paper makes me not think quite so badly of him, however:

Sen. Harkin said the measure would undermine the whole health care law. Here's what he had to say this morning, courtesy of Radio Iowa:
“It would allow any employer or any health plan to deny women access to contraception, mammograms, prenatal screenings, cervical cancer screenings and much more,” Harkin says. “It would allow employers and health insurance companies to deny coverage of any health services they find morally objectionable.”
Read more: http://www.qctimes.com/blogs/campaign-trail/religious-freedom-and-women-s-reproductive-rights/article_b98c966c-63f2-11e1-91ca-001871e3ce6c.html#ixzz1pUlByB9q</blockquote>

I still agree that he is hardly a poster boy for Reason,  but at least he is not quite as bad as I first thought.
But the question remains: why are these people speaking at a REASON Rally at all?