4/18/2010

What is "Offensive"?

I had an interesting exchange with two friends on Facebook about what is offensive. One of those friends is a newer one I met through a transplant group and one is an old high school friend. We were discussing the neo-nazi rally in Los Angeles and a phrase used by the Associated Press in covering that rally. The AP described one of the white supremacists who removed his shirt to display the lightning bolt symbol associated with the SS. The AP described the symbols as "offensive to some." I said that the symbol would be offensive to anyone except the neo-nazis present and that describing it in such a way seemed to say that there would be those who are not neo-nazis who would see such a symbol as either morally neutral or even positive in some manner.

The responses were interesting. My old friend from high school said that the she did not find it offensive because, basically, free speech dictated that they should be allowed to express themselves however they chose outside physical violence. My newer friend said that the symbol was offensive but that people had varying degrees of what  they found "offensive" and great latitude should be given in calling something offensive.

Both missed the point of my opinion somewhat and pointed out the problem with the word. I like precise language. The word "offensive" has been watered down in our society to now mean anything at all with which we disagree on principle regardless of the intent with which any symbol or action is undertaken.

3/21/2010

Is America Hopelessly Insane?

I read my daily newsfeed and see what my friends post on Facebook and Twitter and I wonder if this nation has gone hopelessly insane since the 1980's. With the advent of Reagan and his bizarre blend of Christian wingnuts, laissez-faire robber barons, and military hawks and profiteers it seemed we were headed down a dark path. Then after his reign and one term by his chosen disciple George H.W. Bush we got a reprieve in the Clinton years. Except, the craziness just heated up. The people who loved Reagan and Bush refused to accept rule by anyone else. They actually tried to impeach a President over a blowjob! Then we had an election stolen by right wing operatives - most trained in the Reagan/Bush administration. That launched what is arguably the most devastating administration in the history of the nation. Then, at last we saw a reprieve in the election of Barack Obama who was supposed to right the wrongs. But again, the wingnuts refuse to accept anyone in power but one of their own. The craziness has risen to fever pitch egged on by complete crazies like Beck, Armey, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh and broadcast 24/7 by the Republican Fringe's personal network - Fox News.

But then, I think: Surely this all because I'm reading about these morons every day. It can't be as bad as all that. Then I drive to my local supermarket and park behind a huge pick-up truck parked backwards (one of my pet peeves). The back of the truck is covered in stickers: the "Obama Joker" face, one that reads "Are you sorry yet?", another touting that Christians aren't perfect, just saved, and the requisite 2nd Amendment come-ons.

3/19/2010

The Dawning of a New Day

Yesterday saw some amazing events in the usually very polite LGBT community. Activists staged sit-ins at both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Washington, D.C. and San Francicso, CA offices. They were eventually removed and arrested by police after initially locking the doors to remain inside. They demanded that Pelosi bring the ENDA bill to the floor for a vote by the end of March. Democratic leadership have been dragging their feet on the law for months and Obama (as usual) hasn't bothered to make it a priority.

Meanwhile, the HRC was holding one of its self-serving "events" in town with Kathy Griffin in tow. Solomnese and his minions were doing their usual speechifying when Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pientranglo showed up. Choi asked to address the crowd but Solomnese refused. Griffin, however, invited him up on the podium when it was her turn to speak. Choi called on those present to march with him to the gates of the White House to demand an end to DADT. According to reports, Solomnese at first seemed to approve and Choi implored him to come along. Griffin also was willing. However, in the confusion it appears Solomnese managed to melt away and take Kathy Griffin with him.

Later in the day the HRC released a statement: "Joe Solmonese along with Eric Alva and others felt it was important to stay and engage those at the rally in ways they can continue building the pressure needed for repeal. This does nothing to diminish the actions taken by Lt. Choi and others. This is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play."

3/14/2010

Mr. Pot Meet Mr. Kettle

Fox News is always good for a laugh but more they are a good barometer of just how bizarre Amur-uh-cuhns think. Take, for example, their story about Jamie Paulin-Ramirez "brainwashing" her six-year-old son. Just check out the breathless reportage of Fox:

The 6-year-old son of a Colorado nursing student who ran off to Europe to join a terrorist murder cell was brainwashed into a hate-filled Islamic fundamentalist zombie, his family said Saturday, The New York Post reported.

"He said that Christians will burn in hellfire," the child's grandmother, Christine Mott, told The Post. "That's what they are teaching this baby."

Just Not the Holy Ghost, Right?

In a comment on my Blasphemy Challenge post, someone intimated that I believed in ghosts, just not the "holy ghost." Actually I don't and thereby lays the tale of how I found my way out of the atheist closet.

After chasing around ghosts with a paranormal group and spending a lot of time delving into what people believed about them I finally concluded that it was almost certainly all something other than spirits and souls. For most people a "ghost" is the spirit or soul of someone who has died. Some will hedge a bit and claim they are "energy" left behind by people or they are "nature spirits" or even "demons" fooling us all. In all those cases, it requires that the entire structure of the universe be somewhat altered from what we know to be true.

Try as they might no one can seem to get a handle on showing that a "soul" actually exists. Despite more than a century of attempts no one can seem to show incontrovertible proof or experimental data even that ghosts exist outside the minds of those who "see" them. Even in my own case, I could never be sure my experiences were not a combination of psychology and wishful thinking.

The more I looked at the subject the more I was convinced that the answers people were seeking lay exactly in the places they were most afraid to look - the mind. When I began to say that I thought psychology offered a better route to solving the mystery of "hauntings" rather than electronic doo-dads and quasi-seances, well, the reaction was not kind for the most part.

Texas Stupidity Spreads

Everyone gets a chuckle out of the good ol' boy, cowboy, teased hair and shit kicker boot loving Texans. They're sort of America's version of a running sitcom with their chest thumping threats to secede, their mega churches and generally insane world view.

But, Texas happens to be a big state and probably our biggest mistake in admitting it in whole. That means that some decisions they make in that joke of a legislature affect all of us. One of those decisions is textbooks. Texas is large enough that they can influence exactly what is taught in schools around the nation. They want some right wing Christian nuttery in their textbooks, the companies are going to put it in for economic reasons. That means every other school system in the country is going to have to possibly use that same textbook in their classrooms. If every publishes (and it often happens this way) decides to try for the biggest cut of pie in the USA, then there are no alternatives.

That is exactly what is happening at the moment. The Texas state board of education passed new "textbook standards" that lay out only their warped fantasy of American History can be mentioned in their textbooks. So, they put the emphasis on learning about John Calvin, a minor player in the Reformation ahead of learning about Thomas Jefferson and John Locke whose ideas shaped our system of government. The reason? Jefferson was a Deist (meaning he did not believe in a personal god) while Calvin is a "good Christian" because his religious philosophies eventually grew into what is now Right Wing Protestant Evangelical Christianity. Likewise, minority groups were stripped from the textbooks. Students will not hear about the Tejanos who fought at the Alamo. Instead, they will be taught they were all good Christian Anglos fighting against evil Mexicans. Likewise, a section of a book that explored institutional racism in the United States was expunged on the vote of the majority white board. Other standards approved were "American Exceptionalism" which promotes the United States as the best in everything in the world since its founding and "Free Enterprise" which teaches that any government regulation stifles economic growth and personal security.

3/13/2010

Pope Tied To Sex Abuse?

There's a saying in the South that chickens always come home to roost. It seems the Pope who has made it his life's mission to demonize LGBT people and work tireless, no matter who he has to hurt, to oppose any recognition of our civil rights in secular society has a problem.

Nope, it's not the fact he was in the Hitler Youth this time. It's the fact he may well have had a hand in directly protecting and then assisting priests who molested children.

From the New York Times:

The archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy.

Finding Assurance

Yesterday something rather odd happened. I found myself not rising to the bait in an argument with a conservative Christian. It was a very liberating experience because by not engaging I stripped him of his power and importance.

For most of my life, I have been quick to jump into arguments. I am opinionated and have a quick Irish temper much of the time. Growing up outside the usual accepted groups by being gay which sets me apart from straight people and then being hefty which sets me apart from many gays and then questioning religion which sets me apart from 95% of my fellow Americans - all left me feeling quite defensive most of the time. I have always felt that I had to explain myself to others.

Yesterday I realized that by continually rising to the bait I was unconsciously telling myself that somehow their views mattered to me. Why would I do that? Did I think I was going to change the mind of a conservative minister by arguing science versus mythology? There was pretty much no chance of that. What I was doing was providing him with entertainment. I was his afternoon (or morning) project at his seminary. In short, I would be his chance to show off his latest indoctrination into mythological belief disguised as "science." So, why should I bother?

So when he demanded, yes demanded that I prove to him "the 'scientific proofs' that show incontrovertably (sic) that evolution (such as you espouse) really exists and works?" Then went on to claim that non-belief in god was actually a religion (talk about warped thinking) I decided to cut him off.

This was a person I'd gone to high school with and had not seen in nearly 28 years. I realized I owed him no explanations, I was not beholden to him in any way and his status as a "christian" did not endow him with some honor that dictated I speak to him, much less serve as his debate project for seminary. So, why should I bother.

3/12/2010

Smuckers - What a Bunch of Schmucks

Poor Johnny Weir can't catch a break. The guy who has wowed audiences around the world with his style and finesse on the ice, the guy who has sparked a debate over the future of ice skating (art vs. muscle), and one of the most unique skaters in history, has once again found himself at the center of controversy. This time, it wasn't even anything he said!

The "Stars on Ice" showcase features top skaters from around the world including Olympians and world title holders. Weir certainly meets the criteria. He is a two time Olympian, three time National Champion, and has various medals from international competitions including the Grand Prix.

But, none of that is good enough for Smucker's who sponsors the show. GLAAD reports that anonymous sources from the organization have confirmed that Weir is to be snubbed because he is not "family friendly."

Really? The kid travels with his mother and his aunt. He pays for his brother's education and helps support his family with money he makes on tours just like "Stars on Ice" in the off-season. How much more "family friendly" can you get?

American Humanist Association Sponsors Inclusive Prom in MS

The American Humanist Association (AHA) stepped forward today and offered to plan and fund a prom for the Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Mississippi. The Itawamba County School District made headlines earlier this week by canceling their prom rather than letting a lesbian student, Constance McMillen, bring her girlfriend as her date.

"It's shameful that closed-minded members of the school board are prepared to deprive an entire class of students their prom over their outdated religious mores." said Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the AHA. "People can hold to any belief or no belief in this nation, but the school board misuses their position when they try to impose their beliefs on the student population in Itawamba."

3/11/2010

When Scientists Fail

Check out this headline: "Gay Men 44 Times More Likely To Get HIV!" Scary, ain't it? Certainly seems like it's a good idea for the CDC and FDA to keep that blood ban. Obviously, if you're gay you're 44 times more likely to have HIV!  Oh no!

But, wait, what gay men are more likely? That's where the scientists at the CDC fail us. See, they don't see "gay" men they see "Men who have sex with men" or MSM. OK, so are all MSM "gay"? Would they identify as "gay"? Probably not. In fact, Gay Men's Health Crisis which trumpeted this rather shoddy report admits that men who are closeted or who are unaccepted by their families are more likely to engage in risky behavior.

Au Revoir Examiner

NOTE: I originally wrote this post several months ago following a spate of problems with the "Examiner.com" writers and plagiarism. I decided against posting at that time to see if things changed there or they cleaned up things. Unfortunately, just a couple months ago one of their writers in the paranormal category lifted something I had written for my other blog and syndicated to select paranormal investigation groups. While, to my knowledge, she did not publish it on the Examiner.com website (or if so, it was removed before I found it), she did publish it under her own name in other places. What's worse is when she was called on it her "apology" consisted of swearing it was all just a coincidence and "misunderstanding."

So, here's my original posting on the Examiner and why, after working for About.com in its heyday, I found the experience, to be frank... embarrassing.

The Blasphemy Challenge

"Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." Mark 3:29

Yup, your superhero imaginary friend Jesus and his daddy "God" will pretty much clear you of everything including rape and murder as long as you say "sorry" before you kick off, but if you deny the "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost" then there's no hope. It's the one unpardonable sin.

Amazing when you think about it really. The one thing in the entire scope of human existence and behavior that is unforgivable is simply doubting a rather illogical mystical entity. Presumably, Eichmann, Hoss, Mengele, and even Himmler could have escaped eternal damnation as long as sometime before their last thought flitted through their mind each had said "Sorry about that Holocaust stuff. It was really terrible. Please forgive me." And all would be fine as long as they'd never in their lives doubted the existence of the "Holy Spirit." Perhaps that is trite, but honestly, if you believe what Christians teach then you are REQUIRED to believe that.

But, what if you did doubt? Even one time for even a moment? If you believe the Bible is the "Word of God" and inviolable then it means there is not hope for you. You are damned eternally to Hell. That's a bit harsh don't you think?

It would seem so, since the launch of the Blasphemy Challenge where secular humanists and atheists directly challenge the belief in god and the holy spirit by placing videos on Youtube stating their rejection of the doctrine, many evangelical Christians are turning cartwheels trying to square the circle.

3/09/2010

Serendipity and the Holocaust

Truly life is strange. During my peak overnight time I watched the first two episodes of an old PBS series titled "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State". After each episode about the evolution of the camps from ones holding just political prisoners to holding prisoners of war to "the Final Solution", Linda Ellerbee spoke with scholars about the Holocaust.

I found it somewhat telling that in one place a scholar was listing the types of people exterminated or held in the camps. He got the Jews, the political prisoners, the POW's, Poles, the Russians but then Ellerbee had to fill him in on the rest: homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped. How easy it is to forget sometimes how quickly minorities can be targeted for violence or extermination. Perhaps it was fitting that they were discussing whether in 21st Century America another Holocaust could ever happen.

Surely not, right? During the show they spoke to former guards or SS members on camera. When pressed about how they could possibly stand by and allow such things to happen everyone of them said that it was simply what they were taught. Jews, homosexuals, and others were enemies of the country. They were there to take advantage of the hard working German people. They were sub-human and preyed on others thereby weakening the state. Their moral rot was the reason Germany had lost the first World War.

2/20/2010

What the Hooters Episode of "Undercover Boss" Taught Me...

I'll admit that Undercover Boss hooked me with its first episode. It was a bit ironic since Waste Management lost the contract for trash and recycling in our complex the very same day it aired. Anyway, I finally caught the second episode where Coby Brooks the CEO of Hooters of America goes undercover in his restaurants.

I really wanted to see that one because Hooters has always struck me as borderline sleazy. My first experiences there were colored by being in the company of straight men who could have been served pig slop (which the food nearly was) as long as the "Hooter Girls" in their tight T-shirts tied in knots under their breasts and their hot pants riding up the crack of their butts managed to graze them with a boob while serving the food.

My next experience with Hooters was for a happy hour for surgery. The three straight guys working in surgery were given a chance to choose the bar and they chose Hooters. So, it was a several gay guys, a bunch of women and three straight men. I don't really drink beer so ordered a Malibu Screwdriver. My friends ordered beer. The girl informed me that they didn't serve "alcohol" at Hooters. I asked her why she was bringing beer then and she replied "Beer isn't alcohol! Duh!" Later on we asked if we could pay by the drink rather than running a tab because we didn't want to have to stand and split the tab with people coming and going at our table. We were told that wasn't possible because she was assigned on a certain number of order slips! It was the most bizarre thing I'd ever seen. Finally, a manager came by our table. He was a rather nice looking blond guy. One of my companions expressed her disdain at the outfits the girls had to wear and he explained it was the "brand" and how they appealed to people. I answered that if he wanted to appeal to me he'd best slip in the back and throw on some hot pants and a tight t-shirt himself. He was not amused.

2/16/2010

How Serious Is This?

Each day it seems the "Tea Party" people edge closer and closer to violence. In the New York Times there is a story about a little old grandmother who has literally lost her mind by listening to all this. She is now entangled with radical people like Richard Mack from Arizona and other "militia" and white supremacist types.

Is it simply racism that caused all this? Honestly, is it just the fact that an African American who 50 years ago couldn't have ridden the same elevator as she (unless he was operating it) that gets her somehow? It's hard to say. She even admits that her family worries about her sanity.

I'd say with good reason. She is playing a dangerous game with dangerous people and a sane person would have the good sense to see that. Rebellion and violence are last resorts when a government has become intolerable. Our government is far from that. Indeed, if she were worried about her liberty she'd have been concerned about the arbitrary suspension of Habeus Corpus by the Bushies - instead she supported them fully and sees nothing wrong with leaving the Constitution in tatters as long as "he" is removed from office and "liberals" are punished. This is not a political rebellion but the race war we've been holding our breath about for a 100 years. Look around a teabag group... how many non-white faces do you see?

These people like to style themselves after the great political philosophers who founded our nation. Yet, they eschew education and intelligence and prefer guns, god, and slogans. Their political beliefs are shallow and illogical - contradicting themselves at ever turn. They're against government interference in people's lives but support the government telling people they can't choose to have an abortion or telling people who they can love or marry. They think our court system is flawed and corrupt but love it when someone is executed by those courts. They don't want to pay taxes but want a huge Christian army to battle the "heathens."

2/11/2010

Reagan Era Class Warfare Rears Its Ugly Head

Here in Arizona one of the usual cast of conservative nutjobs is proposing a law that would limit what people who received public assistance can spend their money on. In short if you get public assistance of most types  you will not be able to purchase alcohol of any type, cigarettes, cable service, or a cell phone. I haven't read the proposal in full because I understand it has zero chance of making it to a vote, much less being passed and probably violates numerous federal privacy laws too.

However, what has caught my notice is the requisite "populist/conservative" groups on Facebook that sprung up almost immediately in support. I had friends who are otherwise sweet and kind people join them because the language is the same used during the Reagan era that makes it sound like everyone on public assistance is living a life similar to Donald Trump. I even challenged one of those friends and she could not see my point that such controlling ideas are dangerous and point up an attitude of Social Darwinism whereby those most in need are least deserving of help because they must be morally flawed. In short, the idea behind these measures are that you can't trust people who are at their lowest point because they must have some lack of moral fiber in order to sink to that level, ergo, they will rip off "hard working" people.

Back in those days of Reagan and Bush tossing around terms like "Welfare Queens" my town was in the process of dying thanks to Reagan's hatred of tariffs on foreign goods. Within three years of him taking office the cotton mill and cloth industry in the south had been completely destroyed and moved to foreign soil. My town went from three mills employing thousands to none. Among those thrown out of work was my aging father.

My father left school and entered the cotton mill when he was 14 years old in 1934. He worked everyday until he was called for service in World War II in 1942. He went off to fight the Nazis taking part in the D-Day invasion, the Battle of the Bulge, the race across Europe and the liberation of the camps. He returned home and immediately went back to work in the mill. The same mill where his mother had worked since she was 6. He did not miss a day of work in the next nearly 40 years until the last one when "the flu" got him. Actually, it was pneumonia but he refused to go to a doctor. He worked half a day and came home and was back the next day.

1/21/2010

In Retrospect...

I said in my last post that "god" cannot hurt me in my disbelief. That is true. God can no more hurt me than a 5 year old's imaginary friend can. But, people who believe in that god can.

I'm not speaking here of physical violence which is all too real. We need only look at Jihad, Clinic bombings, or  gay bashings to understand that. No, what I mean is that the well wishes of believers can hurt people at times.

When I received my transplant three years ago next week it was an amazing event. It happened quickly after I was listed and the recovery process really is something of a medical miracle (in the sense only that it is an awe inducing feat of technical skill). You are very sick and within a few weeks are healthy and active after a long illness.

Being in the south during that process almost everyone I met said something along the lines of: "It's a miracle and God was looking out for you He has great plans for you!" It sounds innocuous enough on the surface but it assumes quite a lot and puts a lot on the shoulders of someone who has been through a terribly traumatic experience.

1/20/2010

Coming Out All Over Again

I never got the big "Coming Out" scene when I was younger. My eldest brother had paved the way for me and by the time I'd worked around to doing it my parents were onto me. In fact, my mother was so onto me that she started arranging for me to spend Summers with my gay brother in Southern California in what she later admitted was the hope that he would guide me through the rough road of being a young gay man. In fact, the closet I came to having to "come out" was when I told the lesbian postal carrier at his office (where I worked part time in college) that I was, indeed, gay.

But, now I will come out again for a different reason. I am an atheist. I will pause here while you gasp...

Better? Good. It's probably an anti-climactic one as well but it's important for me. For years I have described myself variously as gnostic (due to my flirtation with an early form of Christianity) or agnostic. Agnostic was always a nice dodge since it didn't seem to put people off quite so much. However, in all honesty I was really an atheist.

Long ago I gave up a belief in the god of my childhood. Yet, I'd never had anything to replace that belief and no real way of explaining why I didn't believe to others. So, I kept looking for some form of religion that would somehow bridge my disbelief or allow me to believe. It's amazing what we do to fit in. I'm also one of those people who despite a strong will and short temper does try to please everyone around me whenever possible. I am a natural peacemaker because I want everyone to like me.

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