Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Review of Ultimate Quotes Big Lebowski t-shirt

Originally submitted at

This Big Lebowski shirt features a number of quotes from the classic cult favorite.

Great way to find fans.

By Not the Dude from St. Paul, MN on 12/11/2008


5out of 5

Fit: Feels true to size

Pros: Stylish, Comfortable

Best Uses: Casual Wear

Describe Yourself: Career

This shirt is a great way to meet other Big Lebowski fans.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fanaticism is not confined to religion.

Unquestioned faith that something is true, despite contrary evidence. Doing whatever it takes to prove that you are right, including violence. These sound like the traits of a religious fanatic. However, it also describes many parents who believe that mercury has caused their child's autism. Despite reduplicated studies and piles of evidence, these parents will to whatever it takes to make others believe as they do, including threatening those who speak against them.

It is however, hard to blame these parents. A diagnosis of autism can be scary. Although it's not life threatening, it is definitely life changing. Science has not found an cause for autism yet. Parents often feel scared, alone, and frustrated with their inability to change the situation. I'd like to think a parent would do anything for their child. Finding a cause for the condition afflicting their child and fighting it gives a sense that they are doing something. Anything is better than just lying back and taking it.

This leads to the notion that parents should always be listened to. It is hard to argue with a parent about what is right for their child. It is hard to counter a mother's personal anecdotes about how and when their child developed autism. You can't fight it with evidence, just like you can't fight the existence of god.

It is not a surprise then that religion is involved in this thimerosal controversy. Lisa Sykes, a parent and Methodist minister delivers sermons on thimerosal, converting more parents to her opinions. When Wakefield came to America after his practice was ruined in the UK, joined the Good News Doctors Foundation, a religious group aimed at protecting kids from vaccines. Generation Rescue, the group Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey belong to, is an advocate for chelation, and refers to it as a cleansing ritual. "We are helping a child's body do what god intended it to do". British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane said "Beware of him in whole reason has become the greatest and most terrible passions". These parents are convinced their belief that thimerosal plays a role in their child's autism is completely reasonable. Because of their strong belief in this truth they will submit their children to dangerous treatments, otherwise deemed unthinkable. The extremes people go to for their convictions can be dangerous.

I love that Paul Offit refers to some of the greatest freethinkers of all time in his book "Autism's False Prophets". One of those is Bertrand Russell, whose teapot argument relates to the topic at hand. The teapot argument is that one can say there is a teapot in elliptical orbit, but it is to small to be seen, even by powerful telescopes. Because it can't be seen, it can't be disproved. The same can be said about scientists. There are things that scientists cannot know, and there are rare unexplainable events. Russell's argument is referring to god, but anti-vaccines activists are using it in their favor creating an industry of dangerous therapies and multi-million dollar lawsuits. Fortunately, the courts don't favor this argument much.

My favorite quote in the book comes from Robert Park, author of "Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud". I think it sums everything up nicely. "Many people are uneasy standing on such loose soil; they seek a certainty that science cannot offer. For those people the unchanging dictates of ancient religious beliefs, or the absolute assurance of zealots, have a more powerful appeal". The beauty of this quote is that it can be used for both a belief in god, or the belief that mercury causes autism. The unknowable is scary. Putting belief into something is comforting.

I would like to end by channelling the great Carl Sagan. I hope his advice will be heeded. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". Unfortunately, in the case of mercury vs autism, the extraordinary proof just isn't there.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Obama Team to Scrap Orion and Ares 1?

Science News is reporting that President-Elect Obama's Transition Team is seeking possible changes to the Ares and Orion projects. The information requested by the Obama Team include how much money would be saved by canceling the Ares 1 and Orion projects, but no real alterations in other NASA projects. The Ares 1 and 5 rockets have been plagued with problems, and Orion has come under fire for poor design. Should Orion be redesigned to be used on current rocket technology? Is the Mars Science Labratory worth scaling back? Should we go to the Moon again?

One positive note in the article, Obama's Team is looking into green lighting several Earth science projects which have been ignored over the last few years.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are You Smarter Than An Elected Official?

How's your Civics knowledge? You can take a simple test from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to gauge some of your know-how. The results of the test may be surprising. Americans had an average of 49 percent, while elected officials scored five points lower, at 44 percent.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Good-bye cheese

I thought I was a hard core vegetarian. I gave up jello and twizzlers, and try to be conscious about buying leather. I was living in happy ignorance about dairy products, when someone opened their mouth about rennet, and now cheese is ruined for me. Rennet is an enzyme derived from calve stomach that curdles the cheese. Granted the amount of rennet in cheese is very small ( 1 kg of rennet extract there are about 0.7 grams of active enzymes) but I can't forget that it is still there. The good news is there are vegetarian cheeses, made without animal rennet, mostly organic and kosher cheeses, but those are expensive. I don't know any restaurant that uses vegetarian cheese. I can also pretty much say good-bye to all pizza chains as well. Giving up cheese will be a gradual process, one of withdrawals and relapses. Cheese and I have known each other for a long long time. We all know how hard it is to say good-bye to an old friend, even if that friend is made from slaughtered calf stomach.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Meet Autism's False Prophets

Do you remember when kids used to go trick or treating and it was perfectly acceptable to receive popcorn balls and cookies from little old ladies? Then, starting in the 60's and 70's the rumors that there were poisons and razors in candy spread, and parents never looked at Halloween candy the same again. Obviously these rumors had to be true. Why would someone lie about something like that. The candy scare turned out to be an urban myth, loosely based on a couple of stories and it got out of hand. The point is that someone had to initiate the scare. The same is true for the mercury-causes-autism scare. I would now like to introduce to you the people that scared millions of parents into not vaccinating their children, and subjecting them to dangerous alternative therapies.

Andrew Wakefield: The Biggest Loser.
Meet Andrew Wakefield. In 1998 Wakefield held a press conference, claiming he had found the cause of autism. He believed the measles virus in the MMR shot was causing damage to the intestine. The virus was able to pass through the damaged intestine, out into the bloodstream, only to be carried to the brain, causing autism. His findings were published in prestigious medical journal (therefore making it all the more believable). He seemed to really care about the well being of children. However, his studies were flawed. He did them in his own lab, ignored contradictory data, and falsified his findings. He collected blood from children at his son's birthday party and subjected children to dangerous tests. He also had financial gain. He was receiving large amounts of money from personal injury lawyers to prove the link between vaccines and autism. He was also developing his own autism detection kits. Unfortunately, before this information became public, there was a ban on vaccinations, leading to a rise of measles in the UK, and instilling fear in parents everywhere that their choice to vaccinate their children was the wrong one.

Meet Mark and Dan Geier. They also receive money from personal injury lawyers to serve as expert witnesses in vaccine cases. They investigated vaccines by turning their basement into a lab. They are also chelation advocates, charging large sums of money for their own therapies. They also advocated for Lupron, a drug sometimes used to chemically castrate sex offenders, which they were financially invested in. To support their claims they referred to findings recorded in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). This system was inaccurate and could be used to manipulate and support clinical findings to their liking. Because they have no background in autism, toxicology,pediatrics s or epidemiology their expert testimonies of subsequently been thrown out of court.
Famous people are smart and always know best. Robert F Kennedy Jr is from one of the most well known families in America. He is perfect to advocate for anti-vaccine laws. Problem is, he doesn't know what he is talking about. He is an environmentalist who also was a participant in a law firm that regularly sues drug companies. His articles on autism and the CDC have been inaccurate and misleading, but he's a Kennedy, so obviously his heart is in the right place.

This woman obviously knows more than doctors. Jenny McCarthy is such an idiot I don't want to talk much about her, except that her "google" degree has led her to cure her child's autism. McCarthy represents everything that is wrong with parents. Of course parents know their kids the best, but shouldn't be making medical decisions based on a 10 minute Internet search. Her kid may have autism, but now she can be a model and a best selling author. YEAH!

David Kirby is deserving of recognition. He is a journalist who wrote "Evidence of Harm" and anti-vaccine manifesto of sorts.

Then there are the scare mongering politicians that don't know what they are talking about that scare the country into believing something that just isn't true. The top offenders include John McCain (idiot), John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Christopher Dodd.

Lets thank the media for giving these people a voice. A big thank you to Don Imus (always a pleasure), Oprah Winfrey and Larry King Live. Controversy makes for great ratings.

Most of these people had something to gain, money. Money is a huge motivation. Unfortunately, ignorance plays a huge part in this scare as well. I'd like to give these people the benefit of the doubt, and say that all our false prophets aren't hurting children out of greed, but out of a lack of knowledge. It's fun to pretend.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Autism's False Prophet's: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.

Lately, I've been growing more interested in autism. More specifically, the controversy that mercury containing preservatives (thimerosal) causes autism. This interests me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it has been a dangerous controversy. Secondly, because of the parallels it has to religion. There are people who believe very strongly that thimerosal causes autism, despite contradictory evidence. They are clinging onto a faith in something for comfort and answers. There is so much to be said on the subject. I've been reading this wonderful and very interesting book by Dr. Paul A. Offit called Autism's False Prophtes: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. I was drawn in by the opening quote by Tomas Szasz "When religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine. Now, when science is trong and religion is weak, men mistake medicine for magic". The fact that Susan Jacoby also endorsed this book encouraged me that this is a good read. Now only is it about something that I feel strongly about, but it's full of skeptism, a quality any good atheist possesses. I'm not going to attempt to analyze and worhip this book in one blog post. So look for more to come, and this book.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jesus Park: The Holy Land Experience

"If any of you are visiting from outside of Orlando, you may have noticed that there are a few amusement parks around. Amusement comes from the Greek word, "muse," meaning, "to think," and adding an "a" to the beginning negates the following word. So, an amusement park is a place where you don't think. This isn't an amusement park, this is a musement park." - A presenter at The Holy Land Experience
As atheists, why would we ever waste the time, not to mention, the money on visiting a place called, "The Holy Land Experience?" Simple, history is always fascinating, no matter the subject, and while The Holy Land Experience does feature such elements as a Passion play, it is promoted as a place anyone can enjoy, and I wanted to see how well the educational elements were.

As you walk into The Holy Land Experience, after you have paid Trinity Broadcasting Network for the privilege, you walk into a replica of an ancient Jerusalem street. Along with sights of a made up market, you'll see a basket of fake tomatoes, a fruit native to the Americas, and not present in Europe or the Middle East. While walking through the small market, which sits next to a modern market, the gift shop, you'll hear playing over and over again, Hava Nagila, a song which wasn't written until the 20th, and maybe 19th century, but does a good job of solidifying that this is a Jewish market, after all.

Next, the place opens up to a handy set for a Passion play. For those not familiar, a Passion play, at its simplest, recounts Jesus talking to God in a garden, getting sold out, having a mob of Jews condemn him, the Roman governor washing his hands of the episode, followed by much whipping and beating, the hauling of a cross to a hill, hanging on a cross, forgiving people because they are being silly, the only time, "It is finished," is actually the intro to an intermission rather then the end, a poke in the side with squirting water, a disappearing, reappearing presto change-o vanishing from the tomb, then usually an rise to Heaven preceded by some inspiring words, and a reminder to go tell everyone about Jesus.

The Holy Land Experience features a Passion theater, which are a series of concrete posts with cushions on them, a garden with handy tomb, a hill with crosses on it, a nook for whipping, and the top of a building for inspirational speeches. This play featured live music being sung by one of the actors. Normally, I like singing with a play, however, it wasn't the lyrics which were bad, it was the accompanying electronic keyboard which gives a multimillion dollar "musement park" the feel of a back lot of Joe's country church feel to it. This Passion play was the only one I've seen with realistic whipping with blood across the back. This was achieved by whipping Jesus with bits of hose which had fake blood in them. That's a good tip for Halloween parties. The rest of the play continues as normal, until the spear in the side. In true Orlando amusement park fashion, the water squirts out, almost to the audience, like it's a water effect on a ride.

How would I make a better Passion play? Better music. Less emphasis on Jews as being wicked little tricksters. The crime Jesus was tried for in this play was for, "being evil," and not refusing to pledge allegiance to Cesar and Rome, which I think would add a better sense of the under dog fighting the establishment. But, who cares? Passion plays aren't about realism, or even necessarily Biblical accuracy, because the Gospel stories differ on a few elements on the events. The play is meant to remind Christians, who shouldn't have forgotten the story so easily, of why they should be Christians, and why everyone else should too. So, when your neighbor mentions he's a Muslim, or an atheist, you can clearly visualise Jesus being beaten and suffering to forgive the sins of mankind, and that will compel you to tell your Muslim or atheist neighbor the story of Jesus.

Next, we sat in a mock temple. There was a presentation to see here, and the first minute was educational. The presenter explained the three architectural elements to be found, Roman, Greek, and Jewish. This ended the educational portion of the presentation. For the rest of the 20 minutes, he preached about how important it is to teach your children a catechism. This is after the bit about the "musement park." So, we're supposed to think, but we must think only within the truths told to us through a catechism? Anyway, he told the crowd about the first statement of the Westminster Catechism, which reads, "What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." He then went on to explain that everyone wonders what the meaning of life is, and that hardly anyone would give that answer the that question. As a hit to atheists, if this life is all there is, life is pointless and meaningless, was his next message. His sermon continued by explaining how great it was to be Christian, but it's a great responsibility too, because it's your job to get everyone else to be Christian too. Then he told a story about symbols and meaning. He used an example of a wedding ring to demonstrate that you can wear a wedding ring without being married, but that's dishonest. Why, it's just like a Christian who doesn't have a relationship with God proclaiming to be a Christian. Golly gee. Just because you're surrounded in Christian imagery and the symbols of the faith, that doesn't mean that you are a Christian. Although, both situations are good at keeping people away. In one case, it's guys looking for a date, and in the other, fundamentalist missionaries.

After the temple, we walked by some fiberglass animals. Strangely, they were in pairs, and figured this must be the kids portion. Kids love the story of Noah's Ark, because there are always fun animals to look at, at least the lucky ones. Kids usually don't ask about the animals and people who God thought didn't make the cut in his "Big Do Over." This part of the park was empty, despite being brightly painted, and including a goofy voice mentioning that, "You can look like you're walking on water, just like Jesus!" This was done by standing on blue paint.

Having sat through a sermon, I wasn't in the mood to walk through the Scriptorium, a collection of Bibles. Jeannette thought we'd be getting our money's worth by going through the hour long presentation, which guides you from room to room showcasing the miracle of the Bible being exactly the same everywhere, despite being translated over and over, it remains inerrant, and flawless. Here's the basics of the presentation: Show papyri which has no significance next to a Middle Ages Bible in Latin, and a Hebrew Bible. Talk about the Library of Alexandria, and make the reason for its destruction about destroying Scripture. Next, explain how difficult it was to copy books by hand, and that monks sat in a scriptorium to do so. Mention that John Wycliff was the first person to create an English version of the Bible (which isn't true) and begin the anti-Catholic start of your presentation by turning Wycliff into a hero, complete with a heroic mock escape through a hidden passage through his fireplace. Get to the Gutenberg press and mention a token bit about Martin Luther and John Calvin in the same display. Show a destroyed press and again expose the Catholic church for being intolerant of Bibles other then the Vulgate. Flash to the Mayflower passengers who were seeking religious freedom, but don't mention why, with their Geneva Bibles in hand. Then, enter a dramatic presentation featuring portraits of characters in the Bible, including a booming God voice, and fiber optic lighting effects on fake stone tablets, with God writing the ten commandments, in Hebrew, of course. Mention again how miraculous it is that the Bible has gone through so much, but hasn't changed, despite the last hour long presentation showcasing many different versions, even in the same language, but never discussing their differences, or why there were different versions produced. Then, finish up with a mock living room with, "all the distractions of modern life," and ask the group, "Where is the Bible in your life." The answer to this question by someone in the group was, "If you came into my house, you'd see at least three Bibles, because I like to have different versions." Then, play some contemporary Christian music to drive the group into the gift shop. Step 2? ... Step 3, profit!

So, how are the gift shops? Well, not horrible. You won't find a copy of The Passion of the Christ here, TBN is too interested in promoting their own products. You will find lots of shelves of anointing oil, olive scented candles, and incense of the Bible, like cedar. Cedar? We also saw Ken Ham's "My Creation Bible," which teaches kids that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs in Eden. In a city famous for a park with a talking mouse, this makes more sense. One interesting thing we hadn't seen before, was a line of Christian supplements, including Valerie Saxion's colon cleanser line to, "rid your body of parasites," and His Water Advanced Clustered Water, with two versions, one for underweight people, and another for overweight people. One is Cat's Claw, the other is mainly ginger. It is not cheap. Four bottles of the Cat's Claw stuff will run you $150. Among the trinkets you can buy, there are Roman shields and swords for children. Is this a Christian version of cowboys and Indians, or just poor marketing? "Aw, come on, you got to be Jesus LAST time!" You can even find a mascot of sorts. Bearnardo the Scribal Bear can be had for only $13.

So, what is the verdict? I got the sense that the park is set up to proselytize, but to whom? Would a Christian who was weak in their faith go to an event all about their faith? Are all Christians in need of affirmation that they aren't alone? Is it for people who have doubted the authenticity of certain parts of the Bible and want to learn the history of the text they are reading, only to be let down by the "museum," which offers no Biblical criticism, mention of early texts, does not date anything except the pieces on display, mentions nothing of the Marcionite texts and how formative they are in creating the Bible people read today. Perhaps that is asking too much, a scholarly approach from a place which treats Jews as some prop for Christianity, can't provide authentic fruits for their market, and sells stuffed bears dressed as monks while simultaneously damning the Catholic church. I can see why this effort has failed. TBN bought the park from its owner, including 8 million in debt, laid off 100 workers, and is trying to turn a profit after dumping 37 million into the park in 2007. I would like to see real Biblical criticism and history, more of a history of Christianity, and less gimmicks. But, of course, this experience isn't for me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What is the fastest way to ruin someone's vacation?

The fastest way to ruin someone's vacation is to take your crying child. I don't think I've been anywhere on our vacation where there haven't been children screaming and crying. I just about lost it when there was a child screeching next to me on the Kennedy Space Center tour.

I know children cry. It's the parents that anger me, definitely not the children. When you have children you obtain certain responsibilities, like not being able to do the same things you did when you were childless. Taking a young child on a trip where they can't do anything and lugging them along in the heat is just selfish. It's understandable that parents are just trying to make family memories, but it's a waste of money when the kid won't remember any of it. Vacations are expensive for everyone. When your belly fruit is crying, it not only bothers you, but effects the experience of other paying customers. A tour at KSC is about $60. When I drop that kind of money, I crazily expect to hear the tour I just paid for. Much of what the guide had to say was obstructed by a screaming child, that was only quieted when the mother popped her boob out. I was then distracted and honestly made uncomfortable by the sound of a toddler breast feeding.

My parents waited to take my brother and I on vacation until we were about six. The first couple vacations I went on where sans Bryan. If you can afford to go on vacation you can afford a sitter.

I know I'm going to come off as sounding like a scrooge, but there are appoppriate places to take an infants and toddlers. Infants do not belong in loud places like sporting events and movie theaters. It's not good for their hearing, and it's a very disorienting experience for them. Toddlers to not belong in large amusement parks, and R rated movies. It's boring for them, often frightening, and they usually get cranky from walking and the heat. Bjorn and I have decided, that when we have kids, they won't be going on any vacations until they are at least 5, and staying far away from Disney, until we can take out a second mortgage to pay for tickets, food and merchandise.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

10 Things Christians Do Better than Atheists - #2 Giving Money

Inspired by suggestions from Hemant Mehta.

Ten percent. Ten percent BEFORE taxes. Now, that's tithing. Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Protestants, they all have a rich tradition of giving money to the community, or to the religious institution that they belong to. The religious will give on a regular basis, and step it up a notch for special projects, such as a new building, or aid relief. Having been raised in a religious tradition, I can tell you that not everyone who attends a church will contribute financially to the organization, but will donate time. There are still those who will do neither. The last statistics I remember hearing about the church I last attended, was that half of the membership gave every week, a quarter gave about once a month, and a quarter gave nothing. Still with these statistics, the church was able to build large facilities with class rooms, meeting centers, and worship areas, as well as paying a large number of full time staff. The weekly attendance was around 2,000, which is far greater then any atheist organization I have ever seen, but I have seen churches with membership around 300 who have a building to worship in, pay a pastor and usually a secretary, and still participate in community events.

Are the faithful better at giving money? I think the example provided proves that at least the religious are more focused in their giving. I've known many generous atheists since I've been active in the community. Some feel the need to support atheist organizations, and others spread their money to organizations who actively help the poor by providing shelter and food. There are still others who give most of their money to animal shelters, research organizations for the cure of diseases, and places that help battered women. By the time the local or national atheist organization comes around, they are already worn thin. This is a minority of people, however.

Why don't people feel the need to give money to atheist organizations? Part of the reason, I have seen, is that atheist groups don't do much other than provide a social community. As long as someone brings the cookies, you don't need to raise any money, right? Atheist organizations can be much more than just a group of friends who get together. There are a lot of atheists out there who feel that they are alone. There are atheists who see separation of church and state concerns, but feel like there is nothing they can do. Still others want to help the community by volunteering or donating to a cause, but don't want to sit through another patronizing prayer before getting to work.

When I think about supporting an atheist organization, I want to see them doing something. Even if it is as simple as publishing their position on issues, or writing letters of concern to schools which may be treating the non religious differently. I want to feel like the money I give is going to be used for something helpful. That is why I support atheist organizations who do charitable work. It may be a small part of what the organization does, but I feel that the money I have given has gone to a good cause.

Why don't atheists contribute more to atheist organizations? Part of the blame is on atheist organizations themselves. The local atheist andfreethought groups in the Twin Cities have been shy about asking for money. Minnesota Atheists went over a year without sending out a fund raising letter. When we speak to the general public, we rarely speak about membership and how people can support us. Part of it, I think, is because of the personality types atheist organizations seem to draw. Members are more introverted, and don't want to feel too pushy.

The other reason atheist organizations have trouble raising funds, is that atheists generally see themselves as being independent. I've heard a number of times while working in the public for Minnesota Atheists, "Since when does having a lack of belief in God cost money?" Then, I have to try to explain that renting table space at an event costs money, printing fliers and sending in speakers all cost money, but they still don't get it, and don't find value in supporting an organization which is actively engaged in making the community more welcoming for atheists.

Atheist organizations need to make it as easy and as automatic to contribute as possible. Public media has been very successful at promoting small monthly donations, and offering token gifts to contributors. While more and more organizations do have regular monthly giving options, it needs to spread more. More incentive, even it it's something small, like a book, would help inspire more people to give regularly. Ask a student, for example, to donate $60 to the local atheist student group, and they'd laugh at you. But, say, "Hey, would you miss $5 a month?" After a year, the donation is the same. Most people, no matter how down on their luck, or small their income stream, $5 a month is doable.

As long as atheist organizations make it clear what your money is used for, are not shy about asking for funds to keep them operating, and make it as easy as possible to automatically donate, atheist groups will be able to do more than they thought possible.

Friday, September 26, 2008

10 Things Christians Do Better than Atheists - #1 Charity Work

Inspired by suggestions from Hemant Mehta.

For all of the faults in theology, Christians have a lock on charity work. When someone thinks of Christian kindness, I doubt that they imagine brainwashing children to fear a non existent Hell and a deity who watches every move and knows your thoughts. Instead, images of soup kitchens, food shelves, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, even sandbagging ahead of a flood are all things churches are known for. Why aren't the same things associated with atheist kindness?

Atheists do give time and money to charity, but how come no one knows about it? I think that atheists are more concerned with helping others then getting recognition for efforts. The side effect of this unselfishness is that efforts of atheists are ignored. Also, atheists don't tend to organize well. While there are great freethought groups out there, an organization of 300 members can have trouble getting enough volunteers to help with a road side cleanup, but it's members on their own volunteer at homeless shelters, animal shelters, collect food for food shelves, donate blood, and help sick children. While this helps humanity as a whole, it does nothing to rid the stereotype of atheists as a bunch of intellectual nihilists who have turned their back on humanity.

So, where to start? First, you need an idea, then you need to promote, promote, promote. Christians use newsletters, fliers, sermons, posters, calling members, television and radio, and the Internet to get their messages out. Any group can get a few people together to brainstorm volunteer ideas. Choose your events carefully. Decide if you want to have an event which costs money, such as donating new toys to kids, or something which takes time, like stocking a food shelf or raking lawns. Many atheists aren't wealthy, so events which involve time rather then money fit well. One way to get around this, is to go door to door asking for donations for your project.

Most organizations have a newsletter, so start promoting your event early and often. That article on the ontological proof for God can wait until next month. Make up fliers and put them up in public places. Coffee shops, grocery stores, and libraries are great places for nearly free publicity. Atheists don't have sermons, but they usually have regular meetings. Take some time, or a whole hour, talking about different volunteer opportunities in your community that you're going to participate in. A variety of events makes sure more people can participate. Not everyone can donate blood, or make it to a food shelf on a weekday. Start a mail list, or an email list of interested people, so they are always up to date on the latest opportunities. Use social networking tools, like Facebook and MySpace or to post invitations to volunteer events. Oh, and be prepared to offer something to your volunteers for helping out. Food is a strong motivator. Use your website to let members know about upcoming events. You can use a Google calendar that people can subscribe to and keep your events there. It's simple to update, and easy for people to stay up to date.

Not every atheist group has access to television or radio programs, but sending out press releases to news papers, radio and television stations is an easy way to get some publicity. This is especially effective if your story is interesting and unique. You should get to know the reporters at your local news papers. Often times, someone will be more sympathetic then others to print pieces about you, and it's good to know who that is. A press release doesn't have to be elaborate, but should have enough information to entice a writer. If all of your efforts to get the word out have failed so far, the Internet is still a great resource for promotion. Email atheist bloggers, conservative and liberal bloggers, any popular blogger who may be interested in your story. They can have more eyes then a local newspaper, and that type of promotion can lead to news stories. Contact groups that produce podcasts and see if they need a guest. If your story is interesting, most producers will like it.

By using resources you already have, and spending a little bit of time, you can pull people together, make a difference in your community, and promote atheists as positive people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

At the Nickelodeon - "Burn After Reading"

Joel and Ethan Cohen's new film, "Burn After Reading," is an attempt at creating one of those stories where you get fleeting introductions to characters, but eventually all the characters come together. Does, "Burn After Reading," succeed in creating a unique, interesting tale? Or, do you watch each scene while knowing what's going to happen next because it's so predictable? I'd say it's a mix of the two. While the threads of the story are predictable, what happens with each character interaction approach a strangeness common to cult classic films. I won't even bother with a description of the plot, because it's unnecessary, however, this is a good movie to see if you are a fan of the Cohen brothers, like George Clooney, or Brad Pitt? Did I mention that john Malkovitch is also in this movie? And Francis McDormand?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bjorn and Jeannette on the radio

Because of a last minute scheduling change, we're hoping in studio for Atheists Talk at 9 AM to talk about our wedding. We hope that our story will help humanist couples who are planning their weddings.

"Secular Weddings" with recently married atheist couple Bjorn and Jeannette Watland.
"What's the Difference Between Atheism and Humanism?" with Scott Lohman, president of the Humanists of Minnesota, and August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists.

Listen to AM 950 KTNF on Sunday at 9AM Central to hear Atheists Talk produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call the studio at 952-946-6205 or email us at radio@mnatheists.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Friday, September 19, 2008

Scarry Halloween Costumes from 2004

It's getting to be about that time. It's the time when I drive to work and the sun isn't up, and the whole day is ruined. It's also time for pumpkin pie, and Halloween costumes. In my research for ideas, I stumbled upon a site with the Scariest Halloween Costumes of 2004. Featured are Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, an electronic touch screen voting machine, Lyndie England, a Bush protester, and Jenna Bush's liver. part of me wants a kid, just to dress them up in comical costumes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Impeach for Peace Co-Founder Jodin Morey Shot With Rubber Bullet at the RNC

Jodin Morey, co-founder of Impeach for Peace was shot in the back during a peaceful demonstration in the free speech zone in front of the RNC in Saint Paul, MN. It is easy to blame police violence on violent protesters, however, this is an act of police brutality and unnecessary use of force against a peaceful demonstration. Some of you may have met Jodin. He was the singer in our wedding about a month ago. He is also generous with his time as a volunteer for Camp Quest. To hear his account and to see videos, click here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Summary of Sarah Palin Speech

Barack Obama will take all of your money, so when the terrorists kill you, you'll have no money to will to your children and if you do have any money left, Obama will take your fortune away in a Death Tax.

Richard Greene from Clout on the Psychopathology of The Republican

Last night, Jeannette and I wandered over to the Como Lakeside Pavilion where a crowd of Democrats assembled to hear talk show hosts, musicians, and politicians speak.  The last speaker of the night was the host of Clout, Richard Greene, gave an interesting speech in which he explains how he reasons a way to talk to Republicans.  He asked the audience to raise their hands if anyone was friends with a Republican, got along with them great, except on political issues.  Nearly everyone raised their hand.  How could we understand their worldview and where they are coming from?  To be rational with someone you don't understand, you first need to understand them.  A moment of clarity for Greene took place at the DNC last week as he moderated a debate between Dennis Prager and Thom Hartmann. What Prager said was:
"I don't think we're basically good, as it happens/  And that is at least a theoretical political divide . . .   It is so obvious to me that people are not basically good that I stand in awe of those who think that people are basically good.  You have no evidence for it.   . . . Babies are not good . . .  What is so good about a baby . . .   This notion that we are born good is nonsense . . . We don't start off good.  This is fantasy . . . We aren't basically good.  People stink as a rule. . . ."
He goes on to write that it is this base understanding that people are not inherently good which drives the actions and positions of Republicans.  We must dominate or else we will be dominated.  We must combat and be on guard for evil always.  Within every child is a potential Hitler or Stalin.

I have heard this before, "The Republican Party is the Daddy Party, and The Democrats are the Mommy Party.  When we're in a time of war, we need a Daddy Party to protect the country.  When we aren't in war, the Mommy Party can make everyone feel safe and take care of health care and education."  

Greene uses an example of a child afraid of the Boogyman in the closet.  They know that there is a Boogyman in there, and they are terrified.  When someone is so frightened, they don't think, they can't reason.  Whether it is terrorism, attacks on lifestyle or morals, or the weather, no amount of reasoning will work, because they are not listening.  They know that if we are not victorious in Iraq and around the world against terrorism, that before we know it, terrorists will be at our door killing our children.  No amount of reasoning will change that.

What does Greene suggest?  Shut up.  Stop talking.  That is a big sentence for a talk show host to say, but it makes sense.  They aren't listening to you.  But, that doesn't mean that you do nothing.  What do you do to calm a child who is afraid of the Boogyman?  You don't fling open the door at them, they'll just hide under the covers and prepare for the impending attack.  You need to ask questions.  That starts the reasoning process, until they can understand for themselves that there is no Boogyman.

This analogy, while not perfect all of the time, is helpful for me, at least.  I think people are naturally altruistic to a point, and selfish and greedy to another point, but I don't have the view that everyone is out to get me.  

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anti-war and RNC protesting

Jeannette and I usually go to the Labor Day festival on Harriet Island this time of year, but since there are several new visitors in town, i.e. the RNC, we skipped that. We met up with Laura who was a CIT at Camp Quest, saw a camper on the march route, and marched with Jerry Rauser and friends. I'm more anit-war then I am anti-Republican. I don't think those are the same things. I trust someones actions regarding policy as more important then their party affiliation. I think war is wrong, and I can think of nothing which is more expensive, and destructive to humanity then that. The counter protesters stood in silence while angry protesters yelled at them chants of "No More War", "Four More Months," and "No Blood For Oil." The counter protesters all had the same sign, "Victory Over Terrorism - Let Our Soldiers Win." War is an absolute last resort. War on terrorism doesn't make sense. David Cross once said, "War on terror? You can't win a War on Terror. That's like a war on jealousy." This treats an action which consequence is to prevent the loss of life and suffering for people as a game which must be won. In this game, there is no goal line, there is no 10th frame, there is no 18th hole. How do our soldiers win? They get to go home. As long as our country keeps sending troops into war, we all lose.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Seeing a launch in October

Our culture makes you take vacation after you get married. Well, we did get away to Duluth for a couple of days, which did have a lot of honeymooners for such a town. But, our for real vacation will be to Florida to watch a group of highly talented scientists and pilots get strapped to massive amounts of fuel to be launched into a very high orbit, all the way to the Hubble Space Telescope to make some upgrades and repairs. Part of the work will involve removal and replacement of circuit boards aboard the telescope, which will require the astronaut to take out over 100 tiny screws while in a space suit, and wearing a protective glove. I'm lucky if I can take out 25 screws on a laptop, and not lose one. Hopefully these screws are a bit bigger, but still, I'm glad I'm not doing it. We landed tickets to see the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, along with a huge crowd. We also picked up "lunch with an astronaut," which is actually at 11:30 that night. I hope the launch happens on schedule, but we'll be there all week in case it's postponed for weather. We plan to make the most of the visit, including catching a glimpse on Endeavor out on the second shuttle launch pad before it's rolled out to 39A for its November launch. Yay space exploration!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Minnesota Atheists Talk Radio at the MN State Fair

This Sunday and the following Sunday at the State Fair Minnesota Atheists will be broadcasting at the usual time of 9 AM at the AM 950 KTNF booth. A tentative show schedule will feature on hour on atheism, and the following week on humanism. Stop by and ask you question live.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Farting Televangelist

Just because we're married doesn't mean we can't enjoy simple pleasures, like televangelists and farting.

Secular Ethics and Living Biblically

This year at Camp Quest, I was in charge of teaching ethics. However, I was tired of the same scenarios presented, and I'm sure the kids were too. So I took a new approach. One of the main things I'm asked when I tell people I'm an atheist is "Where do you get your morals"? Atheists don't have the bible and the Ten Commandments to guide them in moral living. Telling a non-atheist that "morality is innate", though true, comes off a bit lame. You have to delve deeper. I waned to give the kids an intellectual arsenal. So I kept it simple. I stuck with two of the commandments. I started with "Thou shall not steal" and had the kids come up with as many people as possible that stealing effects. The point was to show kids that one action can effect many people. So when you have a moral decision to make, think of not only how it will make you feel, but what the long term effects are. The things they came up with were amazing. They talked about house-foreclosures. They talked about the effects of the economy. They talked about how a store owner could go bankrupt and take it out physically on it's family, and the rise of prices in the store. I'm not saying they fully understood the economics. I was really impressed however of their awareness of others.
However, I also found it necessary not to bible bash, because camp teaches respect for other cultures. It also got me thinking about the messages the bible holds. There's a lot of really horrible stuff in there, and this is going to be atheist blasphemy, but there's some good stuff too. Over the summer I read a wonderful book by A.J. Jacobs, called "A Year of Living Biblically". Jacobs is a secular Jew who decided to take the words of the bible literally. What struck me the most is that he found some great ways of living from some pretty obscure bible laws. Here are some of my favorites:
  • no wearing clothes of mixed fibers: What good could possible come from this? Jacobs found that most clothes without mixed fibers were white, so he started wearing white. Wearing white made him feel more joyous in his everyday life.
  • no plowing the corners of your field: it's believed that not plowing the corners of the field, was so that the passing poor could eat the gleanings the farmers left.
  • not coveting: You can really waste a lot of time being jealous and wanting things. Instead of looking at gadgets at the Sharper Image, get out there and spend time with family and friends.
  • tithing: I don't think a lot of the board member of MN Atheists would complain if we required our members to give 10% of their income. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel damn good when I give money to a charity.
  • Proverbs 31:6 -"Bring wine to the depressed" I'd take some booze for depression instead of being prayed for any day.
  • Observing the sabbath: Not doing anything is silly, but is it really such a bad idea to give yourself some rest?
  • Saying Grace: this can be a helpful tool to help you be grateful and not to take things for granted.
  • This one is my all time favorite-Proverbs 5:1-23 "Rejoice with the wife of your youth....may her breasts satisfy you always, and may you be captivated with her love". I don't think this one needs any explaining.
I know I'm skipping over a lot here, like the token Elisha and the she-bears story, and the whole curse of Ham thing, and......anyway.....

I liken the bible to a Martha Stewart Catalog. I hate the woman, but if I pick up her magazine for whatever reason, and see a kick ass cupcake recipe, I'll sure as hell give the old bitch some credit. I'm humble enough to do so...(speaking of which, the bible teaches humility, and I personally find humble people easier to deal with than ones with inflated egos). The point of all of this is not to promote the bible. I'll be the last person to do so. Where you get your motivation from is not as important as what kind of life you end up living.

Geocaching at Gooseberry Falls

After the wedding, Jeannette and I hopped in the car and left the city for another city, Duluth. Let me tell you, Duluth is a quiet, romantic town, with many copies of restaurants from Minneapolis. You'll find Grandma's from the West Bank, and Hell's Kitchen from Downtown. So, at least you won't go hungry. The skies are clear, and the lake is cold. We had a fun time.

On our last day, we set out to find Betty's Pies. Find it we did, and stuffed ourselves before going to Gooseberry Falls. Now, this is how a state park should be designed. The visitor center was clean and modern. There were lots of educational displays around for people to learn about rocks and the rivers and the lake in the area. One display stood out as a banner in a few places. Best Buy has not been sloppy when it comes to marketing. Their green banners inform you about the Geocaching History Challenge going on at Minnesota State Parks.

What is Geocaching?

It's a good way to get geeks outdoors, that's what it is. So, you have a GPS, right? Well, you can find any point, as long as you can see the sky, if you are given the right coordinates. Geocaching at the State Parks starts off with a coordinate, you enter it into your GPS, then you go track it down, like a treasure hunt. Gooseberry Falls are one of the Demo Parks, so you can use a GPS from them if you don't have one. We borrowed a little Garmin eTrex unit, and set off. It lead us along a trail we never would have gone on, to a view of the river emptying into Lake Superior. it was a great view. Inside of a typical Geocache, you'll find a log book, and trinkets. Sometiems you'll also find a Travel Bug, which hops from cache to cache. The State Park caches also have a postcard for the park. You can collect all 72 and earn medalions. You can earn regional medalions for completing a series in a region. Inside the ammo box, which make the best caches, we collected our card, a coupon from Best Buy, and wrote our name in the log book. Since it was hot out, we had no water, and Jeannette was in flip flops, we headed back.

Geocaching isn't limited to Minnesota State Parks. Visit to see other caches, including ones with puzzles to determine what the coordinates are. If you want the coorinates to the State Park caches, visit

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Humanist Wedding Ceremony

Now that our wedding and mini honeymoon are over, we thought it would be a good idea to describe our wedding ceremony to offer some help for couples who are interested in having a Humanist wedding.

Where did we start?

Who performs the ceremony?

If you are a member of a church, or temple, that's an easy question. It becomes a little tricky if you are a couple of mixed denominations or religions. For Humanists who want a ceremony which is more familiar then having a judge and two witnesses listen to your vows and make a pronouncement, you should find a Humanist Celebrant. You can sort of think of a Humanist Celebrant as a religious mentor of sorts, except that Humanism isn't a religion. You'll want to check with your local laws to see if a Humanist Celebrant can legally perform a wedding. If they can not, get your representative at the state level to sponsor legislation to make it legal. If you can't wait that long, a "minister" of the Universal Life Church, which can be anyone, can usually get a certificate and be registered with the state to perform the ceremony. If that won't work either, you can find pastors out there who will perform completely secular services. Some think that spiritual is still secular, so make sure he or she knows where you stand.

You should get in touch with your local Humanist organization. Paul Heffron was our officiant, and an active member of the Humanists of Minnesota, so over the past year leading up to the wedding, we were able to see each other often, so it wasn't strange at the wedding. You can also find former pastors who are now Humanists and may still be registered with the state under their old affiliations.

What do you do for a Humanist wedding ceremony?

As a Humanist, your options are wide open, and can be as personal as you'd like. Weddings have a long history, and now there are certain elements which make a modern ceremony. The minimal requirement is usually making vows, making a pronouncement, and signing a certificate of marriage. For some, just signing the marriage certificate with witnesses is enough. But if you want to get your friends and family together, you should come up with a ceremony with some of the following: Opening music, a greeting, a welcome message to families, various readings and/or songs, lighting a unity candle, binding of hands, vows, pronouncement, a kiss or many, and a procession out of the place. The good thing is that you get to pick what you want.

What did we do for a ceremony and how did we come up with it?

We looked through some books from the British Humanist Association, and the Australian Humanist Association to get ideas of ceremonies, as well as looking online for inspiration. Our ceremony is a combination of all of those. We chose music and readings which we already enjoyed.

Processional: The Bride walks towards the guests across a bridge while classical music plays. *We chose Aria da Capo by Bach

Celebrant: Welcome, friends! It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here on this happy occasion to celebrate and witness the marriage of Jeannette and Bjorn who now wish to make their vows for a life-long union in the presence of their family and friends. They have written this ceremony themselves to allow them to express to each other, and before us, what this occasion means to them, and the commitments and aspirations they share for the future. Jeannette and Bjorn have created this ceremony to express their understanding of love and marriage as they stand on the threshold of a great undertaking. They believe that marriage is a journey, chosen by two human beings, based on mutual love and respect that allows an individual to grow more powerfully and more beautifully then if each walked alone. Marriage is not only linking our lives to another individual. We are entering a new dimension of understanding which goes deep into our heart. The happiness that Jeannette and Bjorn embrace today contains many wishes, for they will be able to explore and enter into the mystery of who they are. The happiness that they hope for in marriage embraces the spoken and the unspoken wishes for fulfillment. What they offer to each other is the opportunity to explore, enter, ans fulfill notions of who they are and what they can be. It is the maturing of love, freely given, and gladly returned that is both ordinary, and extraordinary, because it is about everyday living, Jeannette and Bjorn are grateful that you have chosen to be here and by your presence, honor their decision to venture forward as wife and husband.

Whoever loved as we did? Let us hunt for the ancient cinders of a heart that burned and make our kisses fall one by one, till that empty flower rises again. Let us love the love that consumed its fruit and went down, its image and its power, into the earth: you and I are the light that endures, its irrevocable delicate thorn. Bring to that love, entombed by so much cold time, by snow and spring, by oblivion and autumn, the light of a new apple, light of a freshness opened by a new wound, like that ancient love that passes in silence through an eternity of buried mouths. Pablo Neruda

Welcome message to guests:
Bjorn and Jeannette spend a minute talking about each others experience so far in their relationship, about their favorite things to do together, and share an interesting annecdote that friends and family may not know about them. *Bjorn shared a story about locking his keys in his car on their first date. He never forgot again. Jeannette told a story about a bee that got into Bjorn's car, and how he ran out like a fool, but she's still with him even if he can be embarrassing at times.

Honoring the Families:
Paul speaks about the importance of family and the generosity of parents.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. Oh, no! It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved. William Shakespeare

The Guests Say their Vows of Love and Support

Today I invite you to share the joy -- the joy of these two people who have found joy in each other. I invite you to hear their understandings of love and marriage. You, their friends, are all especially welcome here because you form a circle of love. Jeannette and Bjorn are as they are, in part, because they have known all of you. The loved ones in this circle have shared concerns, they have shared both agreement and disagreement, have shared tears and laughter. Through that sharing, Jeannette and Bjorn have become more as persons. You are not just spectators today. You are all a part of their past, and by your presence here, you promise to care with and uphold them as they move into the future. To show your support I ask you to make your pledge: Do you promise to love and support Jeannette and Bjorn as they begin their new life together? If so, say “We Do!” --- ALL: “We Do! “



Where is peace?

It is in your smile.

How do I cope?

Your hand steadies my nerves.

Why do I wake?

Because you are there with me.

Why should I be better?

It's you I impress.

Why do I cook?

Your happy tongue is worth it.

Why should I learn?

The things we teach each other help us grow.

Why should I love?

Never have I missed or have been missed more.

Why should I marry?

When together, I find myself.

You find my faults and strengths. I couldn't be who I am without you. You are my first thought and my last. No force affects me more then your smile or your tears. You are my future. You are my home. Your compassion and love can see past my flaws. With you, I am as best as I can be. I can give so much more with you beside me then alone. You are my reason for doing. All I can give, I give to you. I give you my promise to love and respect you. We are different and equal. Together we are more then two. I know pledging to love you is right. Nothing makes more sense to me. Gravity is less certain to me. Each day with you is like a holiday.

I, Bjorn, choose you, Jeannette to be my wife. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


You are my best friend. We are friends who fell in love with each other. We are friends who have shared some incredible moments together. We are friends who laugh and cry together. We are friends who have a mortgage and bills together. We are friends who will grow old together. I'm so lucky to get to spend everyday with such a wonderful and caring person. Any words I say can't do justice to how much I really love you. I feel the same bliss of my childhood. It may not be as carefree, but I feel as happy and safe as I did when I was little, and know I know I'll feel that bliss everyday for the rest of our lives.

I, Jeannette, choose you, Bjorn to be my husband. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


The ring has long been a symbol for marriage. Made from metals drawn from deep within the earth, may these rings remind you that your love, also, must be drawn from deep within you. Forged in heat and with great effort, may these rings remind you that your marriage is also crafted daily and tempered in the forge of daily giving and forgiving. Bright like the sun, may these rings remind you that your love is meant to illumine your lives. Round like arms that embrace, may these rings remind you that human love is a grace upon this world. Bjorn: Jeannette, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into. Jeannette: Bjorn, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into.

As Jeannette and Bjorn have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands, and with the exchange of rings, in the presence of this company, I pronounce them husband and wife. You may kiss! Recessional: Music plays and Bride and Groom exit down center aisle followed by wedding party. Officiant invites parents to follow immediately after, then explains to guests that they should follow the party back to the reception hall for a champagne toast. *We had a dry reception, but everyone had fun!

Should you tell your family it's going to be a Humanist wedding?

The answer depends on how many gifts you'd like. Just kidding! This is a personal question which you'll need to answer based on how you think it will effect you and effect your family. Religion is a big part of my family, and to a lesser extent, of Jeannette's family. I respect my family's beliefs. In turn, they respect mine, even if they don't agree with them. With dialog, things get better, not worse, however your mileage may vary. Sometimes, if a Humanist wedding ceremony is done in a certain way, even without mentioning God or anything spiritual, people won't notice that you've left God out, so you can get away with not telling anyone where you stand theologically, and letting them guess.

My immediate family knows I'm an atheist. My extended family, if they didn't know I'm an atheist, probably have a clue now or at least think I'm non-religious. While it's more difficult to be honest to people who you know will be upset with you, it feels more ethical to be honest, despite the consequences. I think that some people are irrationally fearful of the consequences, when they aren't that bad, but that will have to be your decision, and the decision of your partner.

Secular weddings and Humanist weddings are becoming more and more popular. What this means for you, is that you should be able to choose the style of wedding which suits you, without spending half an hour explaining what Humanism is.

Bjorn and Jeannette get married!

Yep, we're all married up. Thanks to our friends and family for making an ordinary day extra special. No fights broke out, and we even got to go on a gondola ride! We'll be posting pictures to here:

And at Shutterfly:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brian Spient of the Rational Response Squad bends Uri Geller

Uri Geller, yes, that Uri Geller, of spoon and key bending fame, among other psychic skills, and his company, Explorogist Ltd. issued a DMCA take down demand for a YouTube video which contained 10 seconds of footage copy written by Uri Geller. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit on behalf of Sapient to challenge the DMCA violation. The EFF and Explorogist Ltd. have settled the case, and as a side effect, the clip in question will be licensed as Creative Commons content.

It's hard to cheer for skeptics. They are always showing you the man behind the curtain. But this is one case when it's easy to applaud.

Why is Camp Quest needed?

Jeannette just got back from Camp Quest of Minnesota where she and others worked with 30 or so kids. Camp Quest is pretty much like other camps. There is camp food, smores, camp fires, sing-a-longs and cabins. There is swimming and canoeing, tie-dye and sponge ball. The thing which makes Camp Quest unique is that the programming is designed for kids of secular parents.

So, what does that mean? Does that mean that kids are taught to hate religion and religious people? Not at all. To their parents, humanism is an important philosophy and learning about critical thinking, science, and famous freethinkers help build a community. Each year, religious literacy is improved by having a group, such as pagans, Hindu, or Baha'i, give a presentation and offer to answer questions from the kids. While the kids aren't converted into any religion, it helps to foster understanding between people.

Why is there even a Camp Quest? From talking to Jeannette who has spent the last two years counseling at Camp Quest, the kids who go every year really look forward to it. Why? Some kids have a hard time making friends. For some, it's because of their views on theology which makes them an outsider. For others, they have a fascination with science and science fiction and might be part of a handful in their school like them. At camp, they don't have to think about who is going to ask them which church they go to, or treat them differently because of what they think about the supernatural. They can have open discussions about ethics and morality and determine for themselves how they think about different issues, like abortion, assisted suicide, killing in general, stealing and bullying, and eating animals. Critical thinking is as important for problem solving as it is for morality.

Atheists and freethinkers can feel like outsiders in the United States. While our government is secular, the majority is Christian. Our culture is filled with religious language, religious symbolism and religious traditions. For one week, it's nice to get away from that, hop into the woods, watch Stargate SG-1 and play Risk.

Only 51 more weeks until the next Camp Quest!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

Found in 1900 near Crete, the Antikythera mechanism is a 2,000 year old mechanical calculator used to calculate astronomical positions. The exact purpose of the device is unknown, but the journal Nature speculates that it could have been used to determine when Olympic Games would start.

The device is made up of at least 30 precision gears. It's technology appears equivalent with 18th century clock making. It can track the movements of the Sun, Moon, as well as Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn.

Work continues on analysis of the device which keeps surprising researchers with its complexity and sophistication for something so ancient.

You can read more about the Antikythera mechanism at Nature.

Nature has also produced a video which you can stream from here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What kind of liberal am I?

Thanks to
How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bjorn on the radio

C.L. Hanson, of Letters From A Broad blog, and author of Exmormon is visiting her family in Minnesota. I had a chance to interview her for Atheists Talk, the weekly radio show by Minnesota Atheists. Check it out if you want to know more about the book, and about Mormonism. You can download the show from here:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sickeningly sweet engagement photos

Here is Bjorn and Jeannette on a rock. How cute! We met with our wedding photographer for an engagement photo session for an hour at the Rose Garden in Minneapolis. It's a familiar place, as it's where I soiled my knee proposing this hair-brained idea of marriage. So, we trotted back, and posed, and hugged, and posed and kissed. If you like her work, consider giving Melisa Peters' a call at 612-860-0304 or email. She's professional, experienced, reasonable, and looks like she does this sort of thing for fun, not for the money.
For more classy photographs, click here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Test your surround cuteness

Thanks a lot, boingboing.

Anti-Evolution Note Left on Neighbor's Car

While Jeannette and I, the friendly neighborhood atheists, were out at the library for a Minnesota Atheists board meeting, our next door neighbors must have had a party. When we came home, there were more cars then usual parked along the side of the little rode which passes in front of everyone's garage. Some people were parked in front of a "No Parking" sign.

Later that night, our door bell rings, and our neighbor is frantic, wondering if we left a note on one of her friend's cars. The note went something like this:
"Apparently "Evolution" didn't give you the ability to read a "No Parking" sign. Not only are you out there insulting everyone's religious beliefs, but you're blocking traffic."

We'd be the last people to use evolution to insult someone. We haven't found out who the unfriendly neighbors are yet, but we have some ideas.

Engagement photos coming soon

Melisa Peters met up with Jeannette and I in the Rose Garden in Minneapolis to shoot many photos for free! (as in beer) Of course, it comes as part of the package for her to shoot our wedding as well. She was dedicated and interested in getting things right. You can tell she does this for fun. We look forward to seeing her on the 8th. It's so nice to have pictures of the two of us together, which we're usually missing, because we're taking pictures of each other.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Image Fulgurator

This is a bit of subversive art. Basically, the inventor rigged a camera to use slide film as a projector, and attached it to a light sensor which activates the projector for only a few milliseconds when a flash is detected. It's similar to how people photograph lightning. This first test in public overlaid a message on top of a sign at Checkpoint Charlie that people die crossing the US / Mexico border, while tourists cross borders every day without threat.Link.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cracker, please! - Or silliness begets silliness

PZ Myers, a grumbly biology professor in Morris, MN, incited some Danish style violence, by mocking Catholics who are over reacting over a student taking the Eucharist out of the church. There are calls for the student to be expelled from school for this "hate crime." Not to be out done with outlandishness, PZ steps it up a notch with a humor which is drier then a communion wafer writes this:
So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.

So, the silliness of overreaction is met with even more silliness and even more overreaction. Not to be out done, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, has launched a campaign to get PZ Myers fired from his professorship at the University of Minnesota Morris by calling on its president to remove him, even appealing to the Minnesota State Legislature. Since then, PZ Myers has received lots of email, scads of death threats, and his employer has to deal with attention it wishes were on the successes of research teams at the school rather then on the silliness of some professor dealing with summer fever. PZ's actions won't change any one's mind, except to think that atheists, and liberals, are all a bunch of baby killing hate mongers, which isn't much of a change.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Watching the rocket's red glare

The booster rocket for the Space Shuttle, that is! Jeannette and I had no idea what we'd do for some sort of honeymoon. We've gone on plenty of trips together, each one was special, but another vacation doesn't hurt. So, Jeannette and I are returning to Florida, where each of us had gone as kids, but missed out on some things. We're going to be leaving the first full week of October, so if the weather holds up, we can catch a Shuttle launch on the 8th. Jeannette gets her beach, and I get geeky space stuff. It's a perfect combo! We have no hotel picked out, so if anyone has a recommendation, leave it in the comments. Also, if there are any out of the way places which are not to be missed, leave those too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques"

How about social workers overloaded with welfare cases, police, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics, emergency response people responding to all sorts of disasters and food shelf volunteers? I would say these people are closer to the people because they assist based on need, regardless of which congressional district you are from, your sexual orientation, race, or religion. They do not seek to change your views on theology or religion, but seek to keep you safe, healthy, and your rights protected.

Senator Obama, riding high on a swing back to the Democratic leanings for the nation in response to years of Republican dominated governing, made a speech on July 1 which angered many an atheist.

First, some background. While atheists are not alone in their support for the separation of church and state, some Baptist groups strongly support separation as well, they are the most vocal. This often leads people to believe that separation of church and state is anti-religious, or proposes to remove all elements of religion from the country by the secular left. Perhaps atheist organizations, and the people which make up their membership, are more sensitive to issues concerning the entanglement of religion and government. I can see how one's point of view would be different if attending a liberal congregation which prides itself in responsible use of Federal money to fund secular projects to help the community. If that were the case, Faith-Based Initiatives would be seen as a good thing. It was started by President Clinton, after all.

As with most things, without stronger oversight, and control, abuse becomes rampant. Let's say you're the Salvation Army, and you are receiving Federal money to fund a program, and you're busy hiring staff. Let's say one of your prospective staff, interviewing for a Psychologist position is Jewish and you find out during the interview, and refuse to hire based on his religion. That's discrimination. However, courts have upheld the rights of religious groups to discriminate. But, when you're being funded by the public, you need to play by the public's rules.

Not For Profit Organizations are required to keep report on income, while religious groups do not. Without this transparency, that $200,000 grant to fund school presentations on the dangers of drugs could become attractive when the roof leaks in the church's gym. Since there is no oversight of accounting, that temptation can be quite strong, after all, it's all in the service of God? Right? To atheists, it is serious, and exposes the problem which arise when government and religion become entangled.

Currently, programs for Faith-Based Initiatives are not evaluated for effectiveness. What this means, is that Federal money which would go to the Boys and Girls Clubs would go to a church run camp, even one run by Pat Robertson's church. This is also a concern when states choose to fund abstinence only religious based sex education over comprehensive reason based sex education, without looking at the dangers of not providing students with education which can help prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Senator Obama has spoken strongly about the separation of church and state. I think ending discrimination in hiring practices, and providing better controls and oversight are better then not. However, before Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiates, religious groups and secular groups were on an even playing field, able to compete fairly for the same grants. Now there is a bias towards supporting Christian organizations over others, and both parties are guilty of throwing money at overtly religious programs and churches which use money to proselytize unwilling recipients of programs, discriminate based on religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and may not provide better services then secular counterparts.

Reform is good, but others are not satisfied. Americans United, and the Secular Coalition of America both have positions that the Faith-Based Initiatives program be ended by the next President, as the program is created by the Executive branch. The concern is that a religious group, such as a church, would receive funding for a program, which may be secular, however, allows the church to spend it's budget on religious activities, rather then on the secular program. Providing charitable works can increase visibility of the organization, and potentially increase membership and donation to the church, and can be viewed as endorsing a particular religion by funding an important part of the organization.

I'm in the middle on this issue. I do like the reforms, but I do not like the bias towards religious groups as being inherently good and ethical. I think that Federal money should be given to programs which seek to help the public in a nondiscriminatory way, but I don't see a need to allow religious groups to participate in Federal programs while maintaining the religious nature in their services. While there are abuses of the current system, especially in supporting religious organizations in certain districts for political purposes, most of the recipients are not abusing the program, and are using money responsibly, and within the law.

Should the program be scrapped. I think so. I don't think there is a good reason for it. If a religious organization doesn't have the funds to run a charitable operation, why should I fund it? Is it my fault they can't get enough donations to be self sufficient? Maybe they need to work on marketing themselves better, or the charitable organization needs to be separate and secular in purpose and operation. This is keeping in mind that secular does not mean anti-religion, but neutral to religion.


As Mr. Metha reports, atheist groups have been weighing in on the issue since yesterday when the speech happened. Some have been very harsh, others pleased that the Religious Right isn't happy about church's having to allow atheists to be hired. The tone has softened a bit since the Fox News article about expanding Faith-Based Initiatives was released, because some groups see the move as rather clever. It's a way to appear supportive of the program, while introducing elements which seek to keep the separation of church and state present.

I do agree with the position of the Secular Coalition of America:
Direct federal funding of houses of worship, regardless of how the funds are used, is a violation of the separation of church and state.
But, Constitution, Somstitution, right? It's just written on paper, and paper can be erased, right?