Friday, August 31, 2007


I hate waiting until Tuesday for Apple product releases. Not only is there the wait all weekend, but then you have Monday to sit through.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Camp Quest

It's been a little over a week since I got back from counseling at Camp Quest. I can honestly say it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I honestly don't think I can express what I brought back from camp in a simple blog, but I can try.

I can start with my fellow counselors. They were in short amazing, and I think I made some lasting friendships. Then there were the kids. The kids ranged in age from 8-17. I was in charge of the younger girls cabin. I had some amazing conversations with the younger kids. They were so smart I forgot I was talking to children. One example that stuck with me was a talk with one of my favorite campers. We had this ongoing contest throughout the week to have the kids disprove the existence of Percy, the invisible dragon. Of course it was impossible to prove something doesn't exist, but there were little girls in my cabin who really wanted to believe he was real. So I was walking down to the lodge with this girl I will call Abbie (I won't use real names of campers), and she says to me "Percy represents God doesn't he". And I tell her she got the point. And she says "well do you think it hurts the younger girls to let them believe in something that doesn't obviously exist"? I asked her what she thought. She thought for a moment and said that her grandma sometimes says to her that in the past she has had doubts about God, but she wants to believe that God exists because it is comforting. Abbie than said that as long as someone is happy about their beliefs, but not mean about them she was fine with it. I found it pretty profound for an 11 year old.

There were also some pretty sad stories of intolerance. I had a couple of kids of different ages beat up because of their beliefs. They told me about their families being broken up. I found this all incredibly sad but I saw this camp as a ray of hope. My mother asked me why atheist and free thinking children need a special camp. I told her it was the same reason Christian children needed a camp. Our children learned about humanist principles as well as being with children like them. I see atheism as a minority. Here was a place that kids didn't have to skirt around the issue, but could feel free to talk about what they wanted. We even had some Unitarians, and their belief in the supernatural was openly and respectively discussed.
I was raised religious so I found it interesting to meet parents who raised their kids how I will ultimately raise mine. A mine gripe of atheists is that Christians indoctrinate their children, but atheists can do the same thing. The goal of this camp, and for parents in general is to help kids think freely and let them come to a conclusion on their own, and to respect that conclusion as long as its well though out

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What is wrong with South Carolina?

I'll let that soak in.

In the mean time, Weird Al was great. He covered so many songs, over so many years, and flowed them together very well. The place was packed, Weird Al is more popular then ever. There were young kids, old geeks, and everyone in between. Yes, there were girls there, lots of them. Jeannette bought me a "White & Nerdy" t-shirt. I was going to skip going to the show, but glad I didn't, it was really cool to wallow in the geekiness. We didn't spend too much time at the fair, but did buy cookies.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Podcast and Cable TV Show Committee

I'll be heading up the podcast/cable TV show committee for Minnesota Atheists. I have a few ideas, like having weekly short audio podcasts, in addition to the video podcast which are created from monthly meetings, or cable TV show programs. If you have any ideas for upcoming shows, let me know, or if you think my idea stinks, let me know, but come prepared with your own idea.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Louisville, KY

I may have to go to Louisville for a few days for work. If anyone can think of anything fun to do there, besides visit the bat factory, let me know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

President of Camp Quest on NPR

From Friendly Atheist:

Amanda Metskas, the president of Camp Quest (the summer camp for children of atheist parents), was on NPR today.

The interview came across really well, and Amanda was able to respond to a lot of the misconceptions people may have of the camp.

Check it out here!

This is the camp Jeannette is at this week. Amanda does a good job of explaining the reason for the camps, and helps to dispel some myths. The camps aren't an Anti-Jesus Camp, where militant atheists are created. There is a strong focus on materialism, not buying lots of stuff, but the theory that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter, and that all phenomena are the result of material interaction. The children are encouraged to be skeptical of claims made without evidence. However, religion isn't removed from Camp Quest. Because many of these children come from families where there is no religion practiced, they may know very little about spiritual beliefs, like why people pray, or why certain groups practice certain rituals. To help with this, guests speak about various faiths.

One of the games which is played at camp, is called "Two invisible unicorns." The goal for the children is to prove these two invisible unicorns, which are at Camp Quest, do not exist. You can't sense them in any way, but the leader is sure they are there, he or she has faith that they are there. The kids present their proofs trying to dispel the invisible unicorn theory, with a chance to win a $100 bill.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dwight Schrute = Tech With Drugs

An anagram of Dwight Schrute, hero of The Office, is Tech With Drugs. This is obviously a deep social message, warning America of the dangers of what which techs provide. Can you stop your digital addiction?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Affirmations of Humanism

Jeannette is gone all week at Camp Quest, a secular summer camp just outside of the Twin Cities. It caters to the children of Humanists. But, what is Humanism? The definition is difficult to nail down, and most places like to talk in terms of affirmations, or concepts Humanists value. Not all Humanists agree with all affirmations, but it serves as a guide. Camp Quest has their own list of affirmations:

A Statement of Principles

* We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
* We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
* We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
* We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
* We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
* We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
* We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
* We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
* We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
* We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
* We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
* We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
* We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
* We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
* We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
* We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
* We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
* We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
* We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
* We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
* We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

The nature of Humanism denies the inclusion of religious adherents, however, there is common ground to be found.

Jeannette should be back in a week to give her report of the camp.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Municipal Wi-Fi Helped During Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

US Internet and the city of Minneapolis had a lot to brag about on Wednesday, August 1st. The coordination of response teams was top notch. The 800MHz radio system worked as planned. Add to that, municipal Wi-Fi. Minnesota Monitor reports on what USI Wireless did to help in the recovery efforts. If you have muni wifi, and there is a disaster, cell phones become useless, because their network gets jammed, and isn't as easy to expand. What USI Wireless did was to boost service in the area to handle more users, and the service around the disaster was made free. Also, to help the emergency response coorindation, they set up wifi webcams to monitor activity on the ground. The benefit of wifi to responders is the ability to have another method of communication, and to download large files, like GIS data of the area.

James Farstad writes a great analysis of the use of municipal wifi in the disaster.

While no one could have predicted what was going to happen, a lot of resources were available to to responders. You have to spend a lot of money to make sure nothing happens, or when something does happen, the loss of life is minimized. I'm going to try out the WiFi once it comes to town. Speed isn't such a big deal, although I'm spoiled with 10Mbps down, I don't download really large files anymore. Gone are my days of downloading large game demos, or linux distros. Those are downloaded from work anyway. You can look forward to a full review of the service once it comes to my neck of the woods, including mobile tests. I'll have a home station, and test out laptop, and Nokia 770 use. I'll make sure to test use with the muni wifi antenna's, and if possible without.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Post-Show notes

I had a great time taping Atheist Talk at the MTN studios. What is most fun, is being able to get so much information from some really passionate people, about a wide range of subjects. I'll talk about each of the presenters, and a brief summary of the books they talked about.

Cynthia Egli, Associate President for Minnesota Atheists, reviewed Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg, and American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury by Kevin Phillips.

The focus of Kingdom Coming is on "dominion theology," or the belief that Christians must take over every aspect of society. To highlight dominion theology, the Christian Nationalism movement, and their ties with the Republican party are mentioned, providing a wake up call for pluralists and social liberals to be aware of the impending battle with Christian Fundamentalists.

I've read part of American Theocracy, but stopped shortly after a long piece on the history of power generation. There was only so much I could take about whale oil. I should pick it up again, because it show cases societies which have failed, and examines their patterns. Cynthia noted that America is following the same path, a rise in nationalism, and patriotism, increasing dependence on other countries for basic needs, like manufacturing, and dependence on a power resource which will run out. Unless we pioneer new methods of power generation, we will not continue to be number one, and American society will suffer.

Kristine Harley, Director-at-Large for Minnesota Atheists, took on the biological, rather then social topics with her excellent reviews of two Dawkins books, no, not The God Delusion, but The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design and The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene. While you may shrink away, because these books to talk about a lot of science, Kristine assures you, even non scientists, like herself, find it easy to read, and written well enough that even a novice can grasp complex biological theories.

The Blind Watchmaker takes the position that there is no fingerprint of a creator to be found in biology. He deconstructs complex theory, and provides examples of evidence for you to explore yourself, which support the notion that just because you walk on a beach, and find a watch, you assume there is a watchmaker somewhere, which would follow for a creature, there must be a creator. If that were the case, the sorting of the rocks and sand on the beach could be considered to have been placed there by Intelligent Design.

The Extended Phenotype, Kristine explains, Dawkins considers his greatest work. It's a sequel to his other famous book, The Selfish Gene. In this book, he explains the concept that genes operate on the environment, and that the body is a link in the chain of orders passing from DNA to the external phenotype - beaver dams or host behavior that helps the parasite, or any other activity that helps the genes. You may want to read The Selfish Gene first, but if not, you'll still walk away with a better understanding of how genes cooperate and compete with each other.

NOTE: I'll add Grant Steve's reviews when I have more time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Me, on TV again

This time, I'm going to be in a taping for Atheist Talk TV. I'll be reviewing Leaving the Saints, by Martha Beck. There should be a webcast of the two shows being taped, but you may be able to catch it on TV. Here is the schedule:
Broadcast Schedule
Bloomington: Ch. 16, Tuesday & Thursday 10:00 p.m. & Wednesday & Thursday 10:00 a.m. & 4:00 p.m.: Sponsors: David and Joanne Beardsley

Minneapolis: Ch. 17, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Sponsor: Steve Petersen

Rochester: Charter Ch. 10, days and times vary; check Sponsor: Jim Salutz

Roseville, Shoreview, Arden Hills, North Oaks, Little Canada, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Mounds View, New Brighton:
Ch. 14, Wednesday, 10:30 p.m.. Sponsor: Steve Petersen

Salem, OR: Check local listings

St. Cloud: Ch. 12, Thursday, 8:30 p.m. Sponsor: Jack Richter.

St. Paul: Ch. 15, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Sponsor: Steve Petersen

Stillwater: Ch. 16, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. & Wednesday. 9:00 a.m. Sponsor: Lee Salisbury

South Washington County Community Access:
Ch. 14, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Sponsor Raleigh Nelson

White Bear Lake, Hugo, Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi, Maplewood, North St. Paul, Oakdale, Vadnais Heights:
Ch. 15, Friday 8:30 p.m.: Sponsor: Michael Seliga

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I'm Alive

I'm alive. I wasn't in danger of dying from the freeway collapse, because I was at home taking a nap. Notable tragedy seems to happen while I'm not following my typical routine, and happen to be asleep. 9/11 happened while I slept in. Maybe I shouldn't sleep. I appreciate everyone's concern. I look forward to driving on a new, safer bridge in a few years.

Update: I was reading the Wiki about the I-35W bridge, and the one thing I'll miss about the bridge is its anti-icing system which would squirt a blue potassium acetate on the road during the winter. It was a nice view of downtown Minneapolis on the way home. Now I'll have to drive through crummy 280 to get to work. Maybe there will be a fancy new cable bridge like this project in Illinois.

Oh, and to all you able bleeders out there, go donate some human juice. I can't because I just donated a month ago.

BOOK REVIEW - Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero

Stephen Prothero, author of American Jesus and chair of the religion department at Boston University, believes there is a crisis at hand in America. The crisis is the lack of religious literacy among America's citizens. His book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't, talks in length of the problem, and offers a solution. If only Americans knew more about the worlds religions, then society would be better off. Religion is all around us, and yet, no one talks about it, and no one knows anything about it. Why, we could have prevented WACO if we only gave Koresh enough time to decode the Seven Seals, rather then helping him fulfill his end times prophesy. A Sikh was shot by a man at a gas station after 9/11, because the man thought he was a Muslim. If only he knew the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, this killing wouldn't have happened. Also post 9/11 problems, such as a lack of Arabic speaking people in the government, and no understanding of Islam (Bush said, "Islam is peace," Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist), could be solved with greater religious literacy. Another problem, but less severe, is that Americans don't "get" religious references made in books, movies, plays, television, or in politics. "When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side." George W. Bush quoted the bible in his first inaugural address, but even some members of the media were clueless and didn't know that Bush was referring to the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan. "Shouldn't the people whose votes put them in office be able to understand what their elected officials are saying, to evaluate whether they are reading the Bible correctly or abusing it for partisan political purposes?," Prothero questions.

A third of Prothero's book is on the history of religion in America, basically how Protestantism spread, how Catholicism grew after years of oppression, various influxes of smaller religions, like Mormonism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism and Taoism. This section is really well done. If you scratch your head and wonder how there are so many people who consider themselves, "Born again," this will explain how. If you've ever wondered what role religion has played in America's schools, this will tell you all about the heavily Protestant education students received until the years after the Civil War, when the goal of the public schools was to establish moral character, rather then indoctrinating students. Even then, this education was nonsectarian, but Protestant in practice. America moves further away from religious literacy by popularizing Jesus after the Civil War, changing sola scriptura to sola Jesus, or the Bible alone, to Jesus alone. This new American Jesus changes with the times. Preachers were very successful when "Preaching Christ," rather then preaching the Bible. This led Christianity in America to be more about raising moral Christians then raising Christians who knew the Bible, memorized commandments, prayers, or Catechism's. Once Christianity is focused on morals, the unity with Judaism, with similar morals, is easy enough, and before you know it, America is a Judeo-Christian nation, and now a Judeo-Christian-Islamic nation.

The next third deals with the question, "How to solve the problem of religious literacy in America?" In short, Prothero prescribes two classes as the answer. Fitting as he is a teacher, and a teacher of religion, no less. He orders one dose of Biblical study, and one dose of World Religion study, in public high schools. The Bible must be taught apart from other religions because it is so important to American culture. He believes you can't be a good citizen without a strong knowledge of the stories in the Bible. But, because we live in a global society, we need a course on World Religions as well. This should cover the seven major religions of the world-Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These courses would be repeated in greater depth in secondary courses as well. In both cases, the courses should be mandatory. Parents can choose to opt their children out of any course which they find offensive.

If you are afraid this will create an American Theocracy where the Bible is given strong emphasis over the beliefs of minority religions in America, or that Prothero's Proposal is unconstitutional, Prothero has thought of that. Proper certification and training will be necessary for anyone teaching these courses on religion. The classes aren't unconstitutional, as they don't endorse, or support any one particular religion. He believes there is a difference between teaching doctrine, and teaching about religion. He contends that the current philosophy, that religion should not be made a mandatory subject, is unconstitutional, in that it supports a religion of secular humanism above all others. But, with proper training, teachers will be able to control their inner Sunday school teacher, or their inner atheist, and objectively teach religion. I think the controversy is understated, even though most Americans support teaching about world religions, and about using the Bible in literature, history, and social studies classes. While I feel that knowledge of Biblical stories is helpful to keep politicians and the media in check when they use or misuse scripture to suit their own means, the Bible is tricky, because different sects treat the Bible differently, based on their faith. This could be difficult when testing about certain books or stories. There is a problem with teaching the Bible objectively, in that no matter how it is taught, the students will be arguing about the interpretations of passages, each arguing from their own sects foundations, and the outsiders will be looking for inaccuracies to criticise the believers. The teacher can not criticise the Bible, and can't preach either. That is such a fine line, I don't know if it's possible at this time in American history, to do so widely across the country. Would a class on the Bible be taught the same in New York as in Alabama?

The last third of the book is a dictionary of religious terms every American should be familiar with. It contains an emphasis on Christian characters and stories, but you'll also be taught the sacred texts of Hinduism, and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Here is where Prothero's bias comes out. He tries to be objective, prefacing certain definitions with, "according to Christianity," or "according to Islam," however, tends to skip this preface when speaking about Christian subjects. That may be nitpicking, but highlights how difficult it is to be completely impartial when discussing religion, even when taking care to be objective.

Americans don't know anything about religion, even their own. The side effects are that those in power can misuse scripture, we don't understand why world cultures do what they do, and we don't understand our own cultural history. While Prothero's goal is noble, it may be too little, too late for America. Prothero describes himself as religiously confused, but still attends Lutheran services. His Protestantism echoes through this book, but that should be understood as his unique background, and explains any bias which may be in his book. While you may not agree with Prothero's Proposal, this book is valuable in describing the history of religion in America, and why things are the way they are today. Religious Literacy is published by HarperSanFrancisco and is available in most book stores, and as an audiobook.