Friday, December 28, 2007

Priests Duke it Out in Bethlehem, Yes, THAT Bethlehem

Who doesn't get a little cranky after all the stress surrounding Christmas? Apparently, priests are as human as the rest of us. Let's take an example. You need to wash your windows on your house, and need to place a ladder which needs to rest in your neighbors yard. Now, imagine your neighbor starts yelling at you, you get down, and start throwing punches, using brooms and iron rods as weapons in your little brawl.

Change yourself to a Greek Orthodox priest, your neighbor to an Armenian priest, and your house to a church which sits over the place where they guess Jesus to have been born. Oh, now it makes more sense. Seven people were injured over this silly brawl over a ladder which was encroaching on the space reserved in the church for the Armenians.

This isn't the first time a ladder has caused trouble between priests. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem’s Old City, still has a ladder standing after a fight broke out over a trespassing ladder when a priest was repairing a wall. The ladder was left as a reminder to others that disputes should be resolved in a more Christian fashion.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How to feel very very small

How to feel very very large

Watch this video about how immune cells move from blood into tissue.

Pray for France - Feb 6

Do you know what France has? France has 6,000,000 Muslims. There was a day when 40% of the population was Protestant. Now, 30% of the population is atheist. What can you do to help? Pray. These four organizations have their own goals in this post Lent 40 day pray-a-thon.

CCFOF, the Christian Community Foundation of France, would like to increase Biblical Generosity. Wouldn't we all like to have that kind of money rolling into our favorite organizations?

Objectif France created this 40 days of prayer idea for France, including a limited edition down loadable prayer guide. Free? No, silly, $3.50. Too broke giving Biblically? Read the guide from 2007.

Sentinelle de Prière (The Watchman's Prayer) is a group who coordinates prayer 24/7, because no one person can "pray continuously," as God commands, so it's divvied up to a hour a person.

United Prayer for France is a group of Huguenot decedents from South Africa. And, we can't forget the benefit to South Africa of European immigrants. Anyway, with only one percent in France considering themselves Evangelical, UPF seeks a re-evangelization of France, because God has a special plan for the French in the end times.

So, go ahead, sign up, and wait with baited breath until Feb 6th, when the all out prayer-a-thon kicks off. And if you're an atheist in France, and you feel a burning feeling sometime in February, that's why.

From [Friendly Atheist]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas

Here's to wishing everyone a happy Christmas, and a happy everyday, because everyday is a chance to make a difference. Keep looking out for those still soft voices around us and reach out.

I'd say the best gift I received was a child sponsorship from Plan USA. I hope the idea of giving donations to charities catches on. Keep that in mind, anyone who doesn't know what to get me. Doctors Without Borders, Home For Life, and the American Red Cross are good starts.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rochester Area Freethinkers RAFT

I had a great time heading down to Rochester, MN with August to meet up with some members of RAFT for a solstice party. There were lots of great conversations. It seems like many members were open geeks, as well as open atheists. I learned that the LDS do not have a doctrine against birth control or abortion. One thing I do remember from my brief experience with missionaries, was that abortion, while not encouraged, was not something which would get you removed from the church. I hadn't known the bit about birth control, however. I thought that the church's views of masturbation would tie in with more conservative views on sexual activity, to an almost Augustinian level which would be just short of total celibacy, with sex performed only when the woman was able to conceive, and only for that purpose. And so, the formerly one dimension I thought Mormonism was, is opened up again, to a spectrum. People really are free in their own minds, despite dogma or tradition, which is comforting that there is a difference between an organization, and what it asserts, and how individuals apply that or interpret it's application.

So, if you are ever in the Rochester area, look up the Rochester Area Freethinkers on to attend a meeting, which is really a group of good friends who like to have a good time.

Christmas Myths

Let's look back at this history of the upcoming holiday and dive into the myths some people hold.

1. Jesus was born on December 25th. Now, most people who take five seconds to think about the problem of dating and correlating the Jewish calendar with the Julian and Gregorian calendar will realize that the date "December 25th" is rather arbitrary. Historians figure that December 25th was chosen to correlate with celebrations already in place among cultures in the Roman Empire which fell around the Winter Solstice, including celebrating Mithra's birth by Romans. The origin of celebrating Jesus' birth on the 25th of December is somewhat of a mystery. Origen denounced celebrating the birth of Jesus as if he were a "king pharaoh." Tertullian makes no mention of a feast around this time. In 221 CE, Sextus Julius Africanus completed his Chronographiai, a reference book for Christians covering the complete history of the world in five books, from Creation to 221. He placed the Incarnation at March 25, 1 BCE. Tick the clock forward nine months, and you get December 25. Seemed to make sense, it was a popular idea, appeased traditions, and continues to this day. He also dates the birth of Jesus to 5500 years after Creation.

2. Angels sang at Christmas. Go ahead, read the nativity stories in the Bible. Show me when angels sang.

3. Three wise men visited Jesus shortly after his birth. I remember this one from a trivia question which was during a Christmas event at school. The Bible never mentions the number of wise men. Also, Matthew 2:11 tells of the wise men visiting Mary with her young child, not a baby or infant, to present the three gifts. That may be nit picking, but that telling makes more sense when Herod's orders to kill every first born male 2 years and younger.

4. Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt after an angel tips them off about Herod. Matthew 2:14 tells this story, but Luke 2:39 has the trio going off to Nazareth after the post birthing rituals are finished.

5. The Immaculate Conception refers to the birth of Jesus by Mary. This dogma has more to do with the purity of Mary, that she was free from Original Sin. The dogma was not official until 1854, decreed by Pope Pius IX.

6. King Herod ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents. This myth is supported by the Biblical record alone. Maybe it was an event which was not significant to record. Maybe all records of the event did not survive history. Maybe commentary on writings on the event did not survive.

7. Candy canes were created by a candy maker in Indiana as lower case "J's" and were colored with red stripes to represent Jesus' suffering, blood, and whipping. Candy canes are as old as the 1400's, created as a straight stick by French priests. The bent shape was popularized in 1670 by a German choirmaster, who viewed the bent sticks as shepherd's hooks. The red coloring wasn't added until the 1900's.

8. Mary was a virgin before she gave birth to Jesus. The concept of a virginal birth is so strikingly important to Christians that many could not fathom it. Paul makes no mention of a virginal birth in his epistles. John and Mark don't see anything worth writing home about Jesus' birth of a virgin. Of course, this is an Argument from Silence, so you are left to judge it as you may. Some have argued that fleshing out the story of Jesus' birth, adding the Nativity story complete with virgin birth, was done to convince skeptics who doubted the divinity of Jesus. Another element used to convince doubters, was to trace Jesus' lineage through Joseph to David. Check the accounts in Matthew and Luke. They don't seem to add up. Jesus' family is described a humble, not of royal lineage.

9. Jesus was born in a stable. Isiah, who is the basis for the prophesy of Emmanuel, and can be used well to elaborate on details when needed. For example, Isiah 1:3 "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." See? While Luke includes the manger bit, the stable is left out, you can use Isiah to fill it in. Take Isiah 60:6 "The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD." Now you know why the magi ride on camels, despite that detail missing from Luke or Matthew.

10. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was created for Montgomery Wards. This is true. The story was created in 1939 by Robert L. May, and was loosely based on the ugly ducking story. The character has not passed in to the public domain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

UNICEF Photo of the Year 2007

Stephanie Sinclair snapped this photo which is UNICEF's Photo of the Year for 2007. Is this 11 year old girl the 40 year old man's A) daughter B) niece or C) soon to be wife. This is culturally intolerant of me, and I am imposing my own values which have been formed by my Western experiences, but I think an 11 year old girl marrying a 40 year old man is wrong.

Point one, it's not her choice, her family is poor, and needed the money.

Point two, marrying a young daughter away for money is a good way to rid yourself of a burden, as women are treated as second class people.

Point three, I'm guessing, but I would imagine 11 may be physically too young to birth children well.

On point one, I don't think poverty is a good excuse for selling your child away to birth children. Is there any good excuse for doing what is done? UNICEF estimates that there are about 51 million girls aged 15 to 19 who are forced into marriage. I don't care if it's religion, or culture, or economic circumstance. I think this practice is wrong.

On point two, this may be a side effect of culture, that women are viewed as second class, but something must be done to reverse this trend. Will education or economic assistance help? And, who are we to judge? We still question whether a woman can be president of our country, and women still earn 76.3 cents to the dollar for their male counterparts. At least we can put a feather in our cap that we don't arrange marriages for our daughters for a price. I really hope that site is fake.

On point three, girls who are 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die in labor then others. 150,000 teenage girls die due to complications.

Granted, these marriages are illegal in Afghanistan, where these two were married. However, that hasn't stopped the practice. Is it tradition, is it out of necessity? But, I'll stand from my pompous American throne, and condemn the practice of child marriage wrong.

Political apathy and fear

Tim Harlow has an interesting article on discussing politics with family over the holidays. One quarter stated, in a survey of 1,000 respondents, that they would refuse to talk about politics with family. Some interesting highlights, young people, and Republicans are more likely to be vocal about politics with relatives. So, watch out for your loud mouthed cousin who happens to be a member of Young Republicans and will tell you point for point why Huckabee will win it all.

Shuttle Pilot = Romeo? NOT!

Normally, I don't care for gossip, but this is NASA love triangle gossip. Emails were released regarding the Lisa Nowak, AKA "crazy diaper, bag with a hammer and rubber tubing astronaut," case. The other angles of the triangle are the super stud "Hop into my Shuttle Cockpit" Shuttle Pilot, William Oefelein, and "The Little General," U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman.

To prove the title of my point, here is a gem penned by Oefelein to "The Little General:"

"They want your size for the arctic gear...I think I can figure that out -- sized sexy and athletic."

Hot Astronaut Action!

That line was terrible, and was the best I could find. Can you come up with good astronaut pickup lines?

"Watch me extend my Remote Manipulator System"

"I have an extension of the International Space Station in my payload bay"

Ok, I'm done.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Glow in the dark cats?

Well, not really glow in the dark, but glow in the UV cats. Gyeongsang National University in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province released the picture and information about the cloning process used to modify the genes in a cat to create a red glow under UV light. It's a proof of concept to display the ability to modify genes by using a virus. According to the article, one of the cats died during a caesarian section operation, and on examination, all of the organs were affected by the modified protien.

Now comes the ethical question. Should this kind of research, genetic modification be banned? If it can be done without causing suffering or pain in animals, should it be allowed, or are there other grounds which would restrict this kind of research?

What is the reason?

While in Springfield, Missouri, Jeannette and I noticed the McDonald's in the area sporting nativity scenes with the quote, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Some snarky fellow created this:

Funny Day

I'm on my way to work when I get a call from Visa security about my credit union check card. I put my phone on speaker, and hear about charges for gas made in the Chicagoland area. It looks like there were three main charges, each with multiple transactions made in one day, so someone filling up his buddies cars with gas. What a sweet guy. SO, I'm identifying which charges were mine, which were made in Chicago when a woman rear ends my car when I'm stopped in traffic. I just had my car fixed about 6 weeks ago. So, I get off of the phone with the Visa people, and this woman is pretty nervous, said her breaks failed. I got as much information as I could from her, and gave her mine. At least she had an insurance card, even if it was for another card, it was the same agent, and her car is insured. She said she was broke, and didn't think the damage was that bad, and didn't want me to charge her, because she was broke, and I said, "Don't worry about it, your insurance company will pay for it." She didn't seem to care, and got out of there as fast as she could.

So, long story short, I'll get my car fixed, again, and I've disputed the gas charges and already have a new check card.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What She Said: Kaminer Responds to Romney

Author of "Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today," among others, Wendy Kaminer, responds to Mitt Romney's unfortunate misrepresentation of secularism. Read her piece, rather then my ramblings on freedom posted earlier. Unfortunately, Romney's concerns about secularism being a new religion are not new. I'm started to read, "In Defense of Secular Humanism," by Paul Kurtz. Right off the bat, in his book published in 1983, he quotes Tim LeHay. Who is Tim LeHay? Well, before he co-wrote the Left Behind series, he was a Baptist minister, founder of the Creationist Institute in San Diego, a leader of the Moral Majority, and Chairman of the Conservative Council, a group of 50 conservatives I'm sure are super fun at parties. Remember, this was all back in 1983, the time of Pac Man. His big claim? Humanists controlled America, from the TV to the schools. He warns in his book, "The Battle for the Mind," that "We are not free to send our children to school where they are safe from violence, drugs, and Anti-American teachers... In fact, to provide our young with the high-caliber education which includes an emphasis on basics and character building, we must pay tuition to send them to a Christian school or to other private schools while paying taxed to subsidize the religion of humanism in our public schools."

I couldn't read much more of Paul Kurtz book, but will provide a review later. What is shocking, is that the argument and dialog between fundamentalists and humanist, secularists, and atheists does not appear to have changed much. It's also apparent that the current conservative push in America has taken a long time to develop. I'm hoping something more sensible doesn't take as long to move it to the fringes.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Freedom Requires Religion

Mitt Romney, A.K.A., "THE MORMON," is running for President. Do I care that he's a Mormon, no. I think all belief in the supernatural is silly, and fortunately many people will prefer the findings of science to literal interpretation of scripture, which at least helps in making policy decisions more rational and based on our material world, without consequence to what may or may not exist in a supernatural world. If you want to have your faith, fine, as long as it doesn't affect me negatively, great. I do remember one atheist being concerned about Romney, because he would create this authoritarian regime as some sort of Mormon theocracy where Starbucks would go out of business and Mormons would procreate at an alarming level, take up all the land, and use up all of the fresh water. I can't think of anything particular which would be "Mormonish" that he would put forward as a policy.

Anyway, to settle the debate about him being Mormon, and concerns that missionaries would now be government workers, Mitt came out and said what everyone expected. In referring to John F. Kennedy's speech about his Catholicism, "Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." I would have added that it should not matter whether he or she had any faith at all, or a religion. Mitt wouldn't. He warns of people who wish to remove the acknowledgment of God from the public arena as an over interpretation of the Constitution, and helps create a new religion of Secularism. He also said, "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

This sentiment was echoed once by a Mormon who can come from the local ward to witness to Jeannette and I, along with two missionaries. He mentioned that he thinks that a people's religion determines their successfulness. He talked about the third world, take somewhere in Africa, where there is famine and disease, and the only means of survival is appealing to humanitarian aid groups to provide a meager existence of just basic survivability. Now, if you just took families of Mormons to the same area, in a number of years there would be a thriving civilization. Perhaps that is overly optimistic, but it is a generalization that Mormons are hard working, and who knows? It could be possible. While the words from Mitt are watered down a bit, the same kind of sentiment is still there, although not as specific as prescribing Mormonism to the third world to end poverty, but that freedom itself is dependent on religion.

I would say that religion sets up barriers to freedom, in the same sense that laws set up barriers, there are just more of them, and would be different depending on which dogma you chose to follow. In that sense, true freedom is an illusion. What appears to work best, at least from my limited perspective, is to maximize freedoms without impacting the freedoms of others. Now, this concept isn't reliant on religion at all. Perhaps the freedom Romney is talking about is mental freedom, the ability to cognate possibilities, or examine personal beliefs, and through this process, "commune with God?" Of course, religion doesn't always set up hard barriers to freedom, and each individual is just that, individual, and the application of dogma can be strikingly different, even within rigid religions. But, perhaps this flexibility could be compared to the flexibility people have with laws, some choose to risk being caught, others are flagrant, despite the risks. Violation of the law in a jurisdiction may result in a negative consequence, as carried out by those authorized by society to do so. Violations of religious dogma, by those who consider themselves devout, don't imagine a different scenario. There are consequences, either in this material lifetime, or consequences in the immaterial, or supernatural realm which will be handled by the Creator.

So, I think the case that freedom requires religion is false, and that religion requires freedom is also false. Many major religions do have a good element which usually says something to the effect of, "You can not be forced to believe." Which is good. This implies choice, or freedom, in your decision making process. In the Abrahamic tradition, free will is what Adam and Eve get from God, and they don't know of their ability to choose until they get kicked out of Eden. This can mimic the free will choice that major religions will present to potential followers. Ignorant immortality, or knowledge, suffering, and death are your choices. It's this free will choice which is given to potential converts as well, except in this case, you have the choice to follow God, and follow the rules in this book, or by what the prophet tells you, and as a reward you get eternal life in bliss, or you get death, suffering, and separation from God for all eternity. This is a false choice. Who would willingly choose the latter? I have, but I don't see the choice as an either or choice.

So, is Romney going to be that bad of a president? No, I think he's been successful as a businessman, which I don't think is easy to do. I don't know his family background, so I can't tell whether he's earned all he's done, but you can learn from business, like how to effectively work with different groups of people, and how to appeal to a wide majority. That's on a technical side. He did say he wants to double Gitmo, good for him, but I don't think that would fly, even if he were president. I'm not afraid of labels, like Mormon, or even Republican. I want someone who is skilled at manipulating people well enough to get things done and solve problems. I just get to sit alone in my tower and judge whether those problems which are being solved are being done correctly, or are worthwhile. And, I will, no matter who gets elected/selected/appointed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nerds + Nativity = Disaster

While perusing PZ Myers blog for some light hearted humor after reading about I-35 being a "Holy Highway," complete with "Prayer Sieges" and Sherri Shepard being her wonderfully ignorant self, I'm grateful for this post on a Nerdy Nativity intervention. He asks, "Are you nerdy enough to handle this?" Well, are you? Nerd?

Blasphemy! Laws?

The UK still has blasphemy laws, although no one has been jailed for the offense since 1921. How does one blaspheme? If you deny the existence of God, profanely scoff at Holy Scripture, or make fun of Jesus, you are a blasphemer. There is an effort from the British Humanist Association to repeal the blasphemy laws, because every now and then, they creep up. For example, in 2005, the BBC screened Jerry Springer: The Opera. In it, Jesus is dressed up as a baby, and called, "a bit gay." A case was made that this violated the law, which it does, however, Stephen Green, director of the group Christian Voice, did not get to have his case, because the High Court refused to prosecute BBC Director-General Mark Thompson for the airing. Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, believes there is no place for blasphemy laws in the UK, considering its application would be contrary to the principles of free speech. Does anyone know of other organizations in the UK which are attempting to repeal blasphemy laws? It's a shame this gets the taint of an atheist or humanist cause, which is seen as anti-religious, when the case can be made that it provides for protection of religious freedom.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Archbishop John Nienstedt gets Chastized for Chastizing

Archbishop John Nienstedt, leader of the Minneapolis / St Paul Archdiocese, ruffled a few feathers by restating the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. In his piece, the Archbishop simply affirms the Church's position on homosexuality, and explains why anyone who endorses or supports immoral behavior should not be allowed to speak, or receive awards from Catholic institutions. From the article:
Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.

St. Augustine's Confessions, while not unique in its treatment of sexuality, has been echoed through history. Sex isn't the bad part, it's the desire that is. Augustine refers to it as "mud", "thorns", and "an open sore that must be scratched." In his time, and even today, to refuse desire of any kind, choosing rather to devote one's life to God is seen as a virtue. Of course, humanity would not survive very long if everyone remained celibate and relied on virgin births. So, what's the compromise? You may have sex, but only in marriage, and only for the purpose of conceiving a child. Seems good enough, that policy allows humanity to flourish, and cuts down in immoral sexual acts. Immoral in this case is determined by what is "natural," and by "natural," I mean for the purposes of procreation. The desire, therefor, to have sex with someone of the same gender is immoral, or "unnatural" because no matter how you try, you won't procreate, and you give into desire, which takes us back to scratching an open wound. I have not read what the church's position is on enjoying sex with whomever you are married to, and if that's a sinful desire or not.

Anyway, enough about that. About 300 Roman Catholics protested Archbishop Neinstedt. This strong handed treatment of homosexuality AND the family and friends of those who identify as homosexual is wrong, according to Mel White, founder of Soulforce, a group who's Vision Statement reads: "The purpose of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance." Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, believes that the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexual activity will have to change. I agree, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that. Archbishop Neinstedt's words are hurtful, not only for the LGBT community, but for the people who support them. It's nice to see people standing up, and making their voices heard. It's also unfortunate that people love the organization, but don't like the policy, so are unwilling to accept another church or faith. On what justification could the Church change its teaching on homosexuality? From an article, one child at the protest quoted this passage attributed to Jesus, "I came that you might have life - and have it to the full!" That's positive, but I don't know if that would convince a conservative Catholic that gay sex was OK. How would you challenge the Church's teachings on homosexuality? I'll take the role of a conservative, "If it feels good, it must be wrong guy," and you get to use history, scripture, personal testimony to convince me that gay sex is OK.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Boy dies aftter refusing treatment on religious grounds

You can read the article here. Basically, the story is that a 14 year old denied a blood transfusion which had the possibility of extending his life. The boy was a Jehovah's Witness, and according to their faith, a blood transfusion would make on unworthy, or unclean to enter the Kingdom of God. Thinking universally, I don't know if the state should step in in every case to choose to extend life, however, these kind of deaths seem senseless. The question would then become where to draw the line. We will force blood transfusions, but not continue life support if the patient has indicated not to. Or, should these crazy, dangerous, religious beliefs not be tolerated anymore? Should that be allowed as a reason to refuse a treatment? Then again, should a white supremacist be allowed to refuse a transfusion because it may contain "impure" blood?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Under the Banner of Heaven" Review

While on the way to Missouri, "The Show Me State," formerly Eden, and soon to be front row center to Jesus Part II, we listened to "Under the Banner of Heaven," by Jon Krakauer. If you have Mormon friends or coworkers, don't read this book. It has the effect of turning the image of Mormon missionaries into the most ardent Islamic fascists. Well, maybe not that bad, but the tone of the drum beat is steady and deep.

"Under the Banner of Heaven," examines Mormonism, scratch that, should have examined Mormonism. Rather then mainline Mormonism, Krackauer weaves a story of a 1984 murder of a woman and her baby by two members of an FLDS group with a pretty good history of Mormonism. This history that is presented is told in such a way as to be sympathetic of the polygamist groups who fall under a general banner of FLDS, or Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Picking on FLDS members, and tying them with the LDS church is a much of a straw man as making Creationists in Christianity representative of the majority. However, this book made me feel sympathy for the FLDS members and their plight. They feel that it is their duty to marry at least three women and have as many children as possible. Part if this comes from D&C 132. President Woodruff issues a Manifesto stating that the Church and it's members must follow the law of the land. The FLDS members believe this is a great apostasy, that the LDS church sold out to the government of the United States. They believe it is in their right to practice their religion under the Constitution, which they believe is divinely inspired. Anyway, what you have in the end, after 100 or so years of the abolition of the practice of plural marriage, are isolated communities of practicing polygamists, including plenty of sexual abuse, brainwashing, and abuse of the social welfare system. I don't need to describe what Colorado City is like, just picture as bad as it could be, and that's how Krackauer paints it. Although, at the end, when interviewing a former FLDS member, he did acknowledge that the people in the city, despite all of the hardship, are probably happier then people outside.

I think the key, and what should have been examined further, are the people who feel so strongly that God is talking to them, telling them to do things. This was brought up in the court case regarding the murder, because an insanity claim was made, because one of the men received a revelation from God that a list of people should be killed. He wasn't deemed insane, because plenty of people believe they talk to God, and many of people believe they get answers to prayer. Are they all insane too?

In Kohlberg's moral ladder, the highest level of morality involved acting rightly, even though you will be punished for it. Here is where one can find sympathy with those in the FLDS, and even those who commit horrible crimes because they are justified through their faith. However, by what basis do we judge an action as moral or not? If one follows secular law, and disobeys God's law, is that moral?

Now, I'm an atheist, I don't follow any God's law, and have only my own morals and secular law to live by. But, how can I judge someone who, say, prays and believes they should protest a war through nonviolent means, despite getting punished, or someone who keeps their 17 children isolated an illiterate, and happens to abuse a daughter sexually because God tells him she's to be a special daughter, and must submit. Now, that story is from Alaska, and I don't think that guy was Mormon. I judge the protester is moral, but the guy from Alaska is immoral, even though both use the same reasoning for their actions. Both are acting rightly, according to their beliefs. Is it because I would be sympathetic to the cause of the protester? Would I feel differently, if the protester were violent? What if the protester were shooting politicians in order to end further violence, at least in his or her mind? Are the actions moral? So, the answer to prayer, or revelation from God is not a good basis for determining morality. So, what use is it to pray for guidance for morality? I don't mean to say that the faithful toss a coin between violence and peace when praying, it's just difficult to judge morality based on that alone.

Here's another example, of acting on the top level of morality. Jeannette and I were in the hotel on Sunday morning, and watched EWTN, a Catholic TV network. One show, the Knights of St. Michael, contrasted the Killing of the Innocents of King Herod, with abortion. The show had a Roman politician urging people to act to prevent further killing, with a modern US politician proclaiming that since the last 100 years, over 925 million babies have been aborted murdered. About half of this show was about abortion, featuring another segment with the Devil and a kid. Fetuses and tissue should be used, rather then babies, according to the Devil, and murder is a choice. Also, a reenactment of Mother Theresa's speech accepting her Nobel Peace Prize was shown, including her statement that the "greatest destroyer of peace is abortion." There was also this appeal to follow God's law, that abortion should be made illegal, because this is God's law. That argument is very persuasive. I can imagine how people so strongly act when it comes to God's law, because it is something most noble, higher then one's self. And, it's something a large group can get behind, so one is acting in unison with fellow followers. Now, most will not turn violent because of some kids show on Sunday morning TV, and the show was not promoting violence, but I can see the point of view of someone who believes they are justified, who encourage punishment for their actions because their actions now are placed on that highest rung of morality. I have no answers to these questions.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Diet Coke Plus

Since we are out on vacation and I'm sick with a "common cold," we headed to a Walgreen's to get some magic pills to cure me. While there, they had Diet Coke Plus on a special 4 for $1. Being frugal, I had to pick it up. I had thought of the idea for Diet Coke Plus years and years ago, wondering with the stuff they already add into the drink, why they couldn't add some vitamins along the way. Just avoid ones which effect taste to sharply, and people would buy it up. Well, Coke did come through with such a product. However, now it makes me think of "A Clockwork Orange," where the Droogies are at the Korova milk bar drinking milk-plus which is milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom. Diet Coke Plus doesn't contain anything stronger then a mild stimulant to increase awareness, but made me think we are one step closer to the past / future of A Clockwork Orange.

1984 Arcade

We drove all day through Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri to land in Springfield. Here are some quick impressions of the town. It must be the strip mall capital of the world. That is all there is, strip malls with blazing bright signs attempting to draw customers in. The signs are getting better, or at least more annoying. We drove past a couple of sleepy properties which had fancy LED full video screens promoting their stores. Also, downtown is indistinguishable from the rest of Springfield. Their downtown, surprisingly, looks much like most major urban centers, however, in that half of the businesses are up for lease, and it looks tired and run down, with a scattering of condos for sale. Yes, even Springfield didn't pass up the condo craze.

The 1984 Arcade was busy, very busy. At any given time, there were maybe 10 to 15 games free out of around 50. It was pretty easy to play what you wanted though, as there weren't too many people who stuck to one game. Because it's Springfield, the lease must not be that bad for the place, and the business model seems solid. Just charge at the door, and let people go nuts. Arcade games are pretty durable, even the old games, but you have to watch for the moving parts, like buttons and joysticks. So, I think it wouldn't be so bad for this model to expand elsewhere. The traditional arcade model fails because people have games at home which offer a more personal experience. I've never thought that an emulation, or even a classic game on a different platform was quite as good as the original. I think people would flock to a place where they could play older games, which have quality game play and spend a few hours mashing buttons. Of course, I'd like to see a 1992 arcade, with TMNG games, or various Simpsons games in addition to classics from the 80's.

If you are anywhere near Springfield, the 1984 Arcade is worth it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sick Haze and

I've been sick for the past few days. I stayed home on Monday,m and that did no good. I went to Mankato, and was out until all hours of the morning hanging out with August Berkshire and students of MSU on Tuesday. Wednesday, I went to work, because I just love work so much, I can't stay away for too long, plus I needed to get backups prepared for the weekend, because I won't be in the rest of the week. Now, this morning, I'm still sick. It's s an upper respiratory thing with unnecessary fluid in the form of mucus in my lungs, so I cough.

So, in my state, sleeping happens lightly, and for entertainment, there is the Internet. Ah, humanity's great resource, presenting the very best of human knowledge. Then there is It's a hilarious video podcast / vidcast / video blog / vlog thing. The video's are short, entertaining, have pretty simple humor, and talking plastic horses. Here is the latest video featuring a dog with no eyes:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ah, Bird Meat

I am not opposed to eating bird flesh, as Jeannette is, ever since she discovered an odd part of meat in a turkey sandwich which she called a "turkey aorta." So, this Thanksgiving, I will be consuming bird meat and so will many Americans. But what kind of bird meat will be consumed?

The choices are many now, with different definitions from the FDA then you may be expecting when you buy the "Big Bird."

Free Range

This indicates that the turkey isn't kept inside all the time, and allowed to roam outside if it would like. While I have the image of turkeys running around picking berries off the ground in a forest somewhere, what is usually the case is that the turkey isn't raised much different then other turkeys. True, the turkey has access to the outdoors, but that could consist of a small fenced in pen tacked onto the end of the larger barn where the majority of turkeys are. It's a tiny investment for a huge marketing spin, plus you can get more money marketing turkey as "free range."


The FDA has not approved the use of hormones in poultry production. Even the Butterball is hormone free.

Cage Free

There's no real legal meaning, but is usually similar to Free Range, except the animals have no access to the outdoors. The turkeys are still packed breast to breast in the barn.


Certified Organic meat consists of a lot of paper work for the producer. This certification means that the turkey ate only organic feed, and was not unnecessarily treated with antibiotics, among other regulations.


This means that the turkey hasn't been frozen, or at least hasn't had its internal temperature lowered below 26 degrees, which I guess is frozen, but not that much?


This definition is not regulated as heavily as the Organic label, and generally means that the meat contains no artificial colors and has been minimally produced.

So, what's the answer? We've become very good at producing lots and lots of meat with very few resources, and very small plots of land. I would prefer a good system, like Organic Certification, despite the heavy reliance on documentation, or the ethical treatment of animals meant for human consumption which had a strong focus on living conditions. This would mean less production, or more land required for production, and higher prices, but meat is already heavily subsidized by the government as it is. Bah, whatever happened to honesty, and just doing things right without so much oversight?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Man's Search for Meaning

I don't remember the moment I found out Santa Claus wasn't real, but I remember Christmas not being as fun without that belief. Recently I read a great book by Mary Roach titled "Spook". It scientifically disproves the afterlife. Up until this point I childishly held on to the belief of ghosts as some indication of an afterlife. After reading this book a lost not a hope for great presents, but hope that I won't just rot in the ground when I die. Needless to say that for a while this proved to be a very depressing prospect for me, haunting my thoughts at every thing I did. If there is nothing after this, what is the point of doing anything at all? As much as I wanted to lie to myself and ignore the facts, I couldn't turn away from the tangible proof that has been presented not only in this book, but other research as well. Just because I want something doesn't make it real, otherwise I'd have more money in the bank. However this book did more than depress me. It made me realize that if I only have this life, I need to make the most of it. This ultimately led to the question "What is the meaning of my life".
At about this time Bjorn recommended another great and influential book to me. "Man's Search for Meaning" by Vickor Frankl gave me an entirely different perspective on things. He was a victim of Auschwitz, and a proponent of logotherapy. I will briefly talk about some things that I could relate to. Much of it talks about living through suffering. As I have not had significant suffering in my life, I cannot relate.
The beauty of life. One often feels alive when they look upon a sunset or climbs a beautiful mountain. In Frankl's experience just a branch with the leaves on it was enough to make his day. Find beauty in life wherever you can find it. This ties in with keeping positive. Today people have such trite complaints. Frankl would find joy in the day by finding a piece of cloth, or working with a foreman who beat him less. Focus more on the good things than the bad. What is the point of making yourself feel horrible, unless your a sadist.
The thing that struck me the most was the possibility that life doesn't have one meaning, but many small meanings. There is a different meaning to one's life at any given moment. It is one's responsibility to the world to carry out these tasks. This is enough to personally get me going through life and take a Universalistic approach to it. Try to make every decision based on how it will positively effect other people. Don't end up a nihilist like Bjorn.
Frankl quotes Nietzsche "he who has a why to live can bear almost any how". This is a beautiful quote and means so much to me. Because I have one life I need to make the most out of it, not sit around depressed that in a billion years none of what I do will matter anyway because human kind will be no more. I don't know exactly what my why is but I have an idea. I only have so much time to implement it. I better get my ass in gear and live my how.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Minnesota Monitor's Quote of the Day Coulter and University of St. Thomas

I laughed a good laugh. Here's why. Minnesota Monitor has a post about the campus recycling program's web page on Environmental Stewardship at the University of St. Thomas. Here you will find quotes from popes, presidents, writers, the Bible, Jesus, politicians, many different voices. Some explain the problem of environmental stewardship, that it's simply more profitable to not limit the use of resources, most of the others speak with caution and responsibility. For example:

We must strive to become good ancestors.

-Ralph Nader

If we play the Sesame Street game to find the "thing that doesn't look quite like the others," Minnesota Monitor stumbled upon this gem:

God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'

-Ann Coulter, Fox-TV: Hannity & Colmes, 20 Jun 01

Now, I hope there's a very very small minority of people who use that reasoning. I would say, if I put on a Christian apologist hat, that the decree from God that man has dominion over the plants and animals and things which swim in the sea, does not mean, "rape it, it's yours." A king has dominion over his kingdom. That doesn't mean "rape it, it's yours." Dominion implies a sense of responsibility. Sure, you get to call the shots, but you can not abuse your authority without consequence. So, as human kind, we have a duty to the environment. This is the majority point of view of the quotes on UST's site. Who knows how Coulter's quote got in there? But, I do think that it does bring to light a base reasoning come people may have when trying to oppose an attitude of Environmental Stewardship. We don't need to be responsible. God said we could do what we'd like with all the things which fly, crawl, and swim
, and I'm not going to let some hippy tell me I can't built my parking lot because it would cause an increase of pollution in the water supply.

Personally, I don't think we need the Bible to justify environmental stewardship. It makes as much sense as not shooting yourself in the foot. But, using the Bible to justify the indifference towards environmental stewardship, is irresponsible, and I'd say is poor reading. You don't need to be told from any politician, comedian, playwright, religious leader, or president that environmental stewardship is critical. Will it lead to an end of global warming? Who knows? But, there are immediate benefits of having cleaner air, and cleaner water. Also, the development of cheaper energy will make the largest difference to countries without stable power generation, or a reliance on unstable fuel sources. Whether it makes a huge dent in the warming of the planet, the side effects of the effort are so great. It's just a shame that the side effects are not as powerful of a motivator as global climate change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back in Time - 1984

Jeannette and I are going to Missouri, or Misery, as Jeannette's friend likes to call it. Why the "Show Me" state? One answer, the 1984 Arcade. We'll be taking the Pac Man car down there over the weekend for a quick trip after Thanksgiving. We'll report back with details of an arcade where the cover is $5.00 and the play is unlimited, except by time. Most games are original, except for one emulation. There are over 50 games there, and I'll be sure to play them all.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Worst Reason to Ban Gay Marriage

Jeannette and I headed up to Maple Grove to see a debate between Ronn Johnson from Northwestern College, and August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists. I thought both participants are getting better at articulating their positions, but because this debate has been done so many times, it feels rehearsed. While August was on the offensive, asking for proof and evidence, and saying everyone in the room is an atheist with regards to other gods, like Thor and Apollo, the Christians at Northwestern Bookstore gasped in shock, almost hearing the word atheist and shutting off what followed.

After the debate, and talking afterwards, which lasted 3 hours, we headed to Perkins. Here the debate continued with Christians and atheists talking about the nature of evil, the afterlife, morality, etc. As it got later in the night, August mentioned that in our country, if you want a law passed, you need to have secular reasons for getting it passed. For example, you couldn't pass a law banning the eating of meat on Friday, unless there were a secular reason for doing so. He cited gay marriage as an example of a law to prohibit an action which has no secular basis. One of the women there, how very honestly said, "What about harm to the body? Shouldn't we prevent that? Gays have to get surgery for ruptured anuses all the time and I need to pay for it. If they get married, then I need to pay for their spouses insurance, so I'd need to pay for their surgery as well." August countered with, "What about lesbians? They have the lowest numbers of venereal disease, so what's the reason there?" She replied, "well, I'm sure there's something they do, I have no idea what they do."

So, THAT's why people don't want gay marriage. They don't want more ruptured anuses. I wanted to find more information about the gay marriage debate, and where the concern for ruptured anuses came from, but I ran into too many sites with people wanting to hang gays, thought gay parades were icky, that it was unnatural, people don't fit that way, that gay people should procreate so the disease of homosexuality will die off, and that being homosexual is wrong because the Bible tells us so.

Of course, I know there are many Christians who are gay, and many Christians who don't see any problem with homosexuality. They see the main message of the New Testament as love and inclusion. The difficulty when a tolerant Christian tries to convince a literalist, is that they are using the same source material, just reading it differently. There's no good ground to start from, and all are just a point of view, with some being more convincing to others then another. For example, a liberal Christian could write off all of the crazy Jewish laws in the Old Testament, and Leviticus 18:22, because we've entered into a new covenant with God, therefor we don't need to follow all of the old laws. But, a literalist, will pull out Romans 1:26-27, right in the New Testament. So how do you judge who is right? Do all arguments carry equal weight?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Pagoda Dinkytown Menu

The Pagoda Dinkytown has a website, with their menu. If you wake up at 2AM on Saturday, and need some noodles, you can stop on by, they are open until 3 AM on the weekend, midnight the rest of the week.

If you want a unique dessert, they have something called a "frosty." This isn't like the Wendy's Frosty. It starts out with a base of shaved ice. Then soy milk is poured on top, with a scoop of ice cream topping the ice. Then clear gelatin cubes are added, with which ever fresh fruit you'd like poured around. It's a strange dessert if you aren't used to it, but it's very light, and very refreshing.

The Kite Runner Movie

While I haven't read the book, The Kite Runner felt like a movie attempting to be honest to the content of the book. Parts were rushed over through editing, and the pace was very quick at times. However, I thought it told the story very well. While some parts toward the end seem far fetched, the first three quarters are an absolutely engrossing bit of film. The characters are not heavily introduced, but exposed enough that you could fill in your own back story if you'd like. Don't tell me everything I need to know, but show me how things are at present, and I can infer the past. This film is a personal story, but presents Afghanistan in transition well without being political about it. We saw an advance screening, with a question and answer period with Homayon Ershadi who played Baba in the film. One question was, "What do you expect this film to do to the violence we brought to your part of the world?" Mr. Ershadi responded, "What? The movie? This movie is not political." His answer resulted in cheers. He had stated that what he hopes for the film is that people have a better understanding of what the Afghan people have gone through, know where it is on a map, that there are people there who need our help, and that there is a lot of money going into Afghanistan, but there is nothing to show for it. When the movie is released in December 14th, make a point to see it, you won't be disappointed if you loved the book.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pet the Leopard

Friday was Mac OSX Leopard Day. I did my consumerist duty and drove to the Roseville Apple Store with around 300 other crazy people. As I stood far back in line, there was applause when the door was released. Another 45 minutes of standing in line, and I could get in. Most of the people there were standing around in the store, chatting it up amongst each other, or looking at MacBooks. However, I was there to purchase the software, and get out, with a t-shirt of course. That took little time at all, due to the hand held Symbol devices with magnetic card readers which a number of staff were holding. I didn't need a bag for such a small purchase, and it felt strange buying the software, having the receipt emailed to me, and walking out with the package in hand, no bag, and no receipt. I wondered how easily it would have been to grab a disc, and walk out, just say, oh yea, I had my receipt emailed to me. In all of the chaos of the "Launch Party," pulling off such a stunt wouldn't have been hard.

After the party, I'm on my way home, and I just can't wait, so I open the package to look at the disc. How clever is Apple to create such products, which are benign, and useless, but still people can't wait to open them, just to look? I get a call from a friend who is at FirstTech, wondering if $120 is a good deal for a 500GB external drive with USB 2.0. He also mentions that from 6 to 9 that night, you could get Leopard for $99, rather then $129. I ruined my purchase from the Apple Store by opening it, plus I bet I'd get knocked with a restocking fee. Rather then giving out shirts, FirstTech was handing out stuffed leopards. Well, enough of about the consumer adventure of procuring the software, how does it work?

The upgrade from Tiger to Leopard, on the surface, seems like much better of a deal then Panther to Tiger. Because I didn't bother to pay for Tiger, I wasn't so let down. This time, however, I greedily paid full retail without investigating other options, such as FirstTech for $99, or getting it from the U of MN via Jeannette for $69. Was it worth the full tag? I don't know yet. I'm not taking advantage of Time Machine, not yet anyway, as I don't really use my Mac for much. It's a Mac mini hooked up to my TV, which has been playing the roll of a fancy Apple TV by streaming Star Trek videos from my PC to the TV. It has also served other purposes by letting my easily throw together podcast demos, edit videos using iMovie, create nicely designed DVD's in iDVD (Designed by Apple in California, made in Minneapolis). To this end, the upgrade has been noticeable. Front Row looks like the Apple TV now. I do like the change. I had some issue getting the Vista desktop and the Mac talking properly, but I am contemplating a full wipe and rebuild to start from scratch. Now that Apple has gotten most of the bugs out of iLife '08, I may be using the Mac more and more. The Mac mini is a terrific form factor, and serves its purpose very well. There is something to be said about using a computer which is hooked up to a TV, even if it is an LCD TV, which makes the experience so much different. While I could type up a document easily on it, I find myself resisting, it just doesn't feel right. I would be better off using VNC from the Vista desktop into the Mac, or rigging up a very long KVM.

In short, everyone who wants a Mac, but thinks they are too expensive, buy a mini, you won't be disappointed. It keeps up with my Vista box well, except for games.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Atheist Symbol

While the Richard Dawkins Foundation has been pushing the Out Campaign's use of a red capital letter "A" as a symbol for Atheists to know each other by some sort of paraphernalia, like jewelry, bumper sticker, or shirt, the Atheists Alliance International conference offered attendees to vote on a general Atheist symbol. The winning design is a pointed "A" inside of a partial circle. This is similar to the "@" symbol used to denote a quantity of items for sale, for example, 5 copies of Mac OS X Leopard @ 129.00 is 645.00. Or, more popularly to denote a user's location as indicated by the server that user is on, for example, Some other silly people refer to that as an email address.

To differentiate the logo from the "@" symbol features a capital "A" rather then the lower-case. Is this change enough, or will it confuse people more then the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Time will tell. I think it's a good enough symbol, to provide easy identification of a part of your identity to other sympathizers. I don't think it would do anything for anyone else, as no one else would have any idea what it means. But, FSM merchandising has been good for identifying fellow "Pastafarians." Anyone else think it looks way too much like the Star Trek comm badge?

The homepage for the logo is here. You can find poorly done variations by someone with little graphics skill outside of Microsoft WordArt, but maybe others will contribute to professionalize it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rocky Horror Show, Ordway, St Paul, MN

If you have a free night, go see Rocky Horror Show live at the Ordway. The acting is actually really good for a small performance in the McKnight Theater. Tickets are a little high at 30 and 40 bucks, depending on where you sit, but you can get Student Rush for half that. And, at that price, you can't loose. Audience participation is handled really well in the show. If you have ever been to a theater showing the movie, the Audience Participation really makes the experience, but there is a lot of it. There is so much extra dialog, you can loose track of what is going on, or you hear too many different versions at once, and it all sounds mumbled. They way the actors handled it, was to use "Frank's Mistakes," or extras who played pieced together abominations of Frank's earlier work, as prompts for participation, or shouted out common responses. This was kept really light, with most songs sung more quickly to keep the audience at bay. This was good, and bad at the same time. Jeannette and I remember about half of the words which go along with the movie, and were a little upset when we couldn't chime in. We did buy a kit with a flashlight, rubber glove, noise maker, confetti, party hat, and toilet paper. The actor who played Frank was terrific, harking back to a young Tim Curry very well. To think Kansas popped out such a character is refreshing.

On another note, the Pagoda Restaurant opened up today, with a very rough start during the lunch service, because the wait staff really didn't know how to run the register yet, and ordered multiple dishes from the kitchen. Justin, one of the owners said he lost a lot of money during the day, but night turned around well. It was a really good mix of people, young and old, Chinese and other folks. There is some getting used to the menu, it has over 300 items, but there really is something for everyone. The people we went out with tonight did get a kick from the Chinese karaoke playing on the HDTV's on the wall, and were more impressed with the food. If tomorrow's lunch is like tonight's dinner, I can see another Pagoda opening up in a few years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pagoda Restaurant in Dinkytown

I am very excited for this restaurant to open in Dinkytown by the U of MN. Justin Lin, a friend of mine, is opening a new restaurant with a handful of other business partners. The inside looks great! There's track lighting, to make it bright, but cast mood setting shadows. The restaurant features two adjoining party rooms with HDTV's, and a karaoke machine. One of the rooms is set up like a lounge with plush sofa seating. The ceilings are high, and the paint is bold.

The food will be mostly traditional Chinese dishes. There should be plenty of options for those sweet and sour chicken eaters out there as well. One interesting feature will be the noodle bar. You walk up, and order what ever kind of soup base you'd like, the type of noodles, and what toppings you'd like to make your own noodle soup. Just a basic bowl of noodle soup is only $3.50, and I don't think there is an entree over $10.

The main dining area features two HDTV's on the walls. I don't know if the content has been settled yet, but some ideas thrown around is playing a tourism video from China.

I've been working all weekend of setting up their computers and printers, so all of that is ready to go. If the final inspection by the health department goes well today, they'll be set to open on Monday, the 15.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is Teaching Evolution in Public Schools Advocating Atheism, Violating Seperation of Church and State?

The argument is simple enough. Evolution is a cornerstone of atheism. By teaching evolution in public schools, the state is promoting a religion, or establishing a state religion, which would violate the Constitution of the United States. This article sums up a common argument against the teaching of evolution in schools. While the author is from Canada, the same concerns exist here.

Is atheism a religion? Is any institution which is secular, also atheist?

Atheism is America is certainly a movement of sorts. There is no dogma with atheism, and there are different points of view, even from people who consider themselves activists. While that is true, there are some common traits I've seen from atheists who are out. Some are pompous and arrogant, unwilling to to listen to other points of view, and unwilling to work with others for common ground. Some have a keen eye for separation of church and state issues, dashing crosses off of water towers and highway memorials. Others are scientists, or teachers of science, and are concerned with teaching evolution while trying not to offend students whose religious beliefs are counter to it. Some are strong libertarians who want the government out of their life, and want to do what they please. There seems to be a minority of people who are interested in being an activist to promote positive atheism. These people are interested in fighting for humanist ethics and morals. They believe there are lots of silly parts of religion, i.e., the ancient traditions, the recitation of ancient texts, but are willing to work together with groups who support the same humanist principles they do, except for that whole bit about a deity. The concern is on making the world a better place for everyone, theist and non-theist alike. They applaud religious leaders who stand up for civil rights, who oppose war, actively help homelessness, support science education in schools, etc. The difficulty these atheists have trying to work with evangelical or fundamentalist groups who take scripture literally. There's a large silent majority who know the theory of evolution is scientifically verified, and so far explains our biology on Earth. How that evolution began is anyone's guess, until we start creating more artificial life in the lab, and have a better clue of the possibilities. How it started is irrelevant, but the evidence of the effects are there.

You can believe in a god, or many gods, and still agree with evolution. Because evolution is true does not mean there is no god. It may mean that Genesis is a nice story, but as relevant as other origin stories, like the Hmong origin story from Wikipedia:

According to Hmong tradition, a long time ago the rivers and ocean covered the Earth. A brother and sister were locked in a yellow wooden drum. The Sky People looked out and saw the Earth. Everything was dead. Only a yellow wooden drum was left on the water.

"Punch holes in the Earth so the water will drain away," said the King above the Sky.

The water went down. Finally, the drum bumped against the ground. The brother and sister came out of the drum and looked around. Everything was dead.

"Where are the people?" asked the sister.

But the brother had an idea. "All the people on Earth are gone. Marry me, we can have children."

"I can't marry you, we are brother and sister."

But he asked her again and again and she said, "No."

Finally the brother said, "Let's carry the grindstones up the hill and roll them into the valley. If the stones land on top of each other, then you shall marry me."

The sister rolled her stone and then, as soon as the brother rolled his stone he ran as fast as he could down the hill and stacked the stones on top of each other.

When the sister saw the stones she cried. Finally she said, "I will marry you, because it was meant to be."

A year later the wife gave birth to a baby, but the baby was not a real baby. It had no arms or legs. It was just round like a pumpkin. The husband cut it up and threw the pieces away. One piece fell on the garden and it became the "Vang" clan because "Vang" sounds like the word for "garden" in Hmong. One piece fell on the goat house. Some pieces fell on the leaves and grass and they became the other Hmong clans. The Nhia, Mhoua, Pao, Ho, Xiong, Vue, and so on.

The next morning the village was full of houses. Everyone came to the husband and wife and said, "Mother and father, come have breakfast with us."

The husband said to his wife, "I asked you to marry me because all the people on Earth were dead. Now these people are our family -- our sons and daughters."

Public schools in the US are secular. Law is secular, and our government is secular. This does not mean you can not hold your own religious beliefs, or hold none at all. Could this be what Sam Harris has been hinting at? Advocating to make education, law, and government the best they can be through reason and critical thought, without the need to reveal your theological beliefs would be more successful then coming out swinging as an atheist. Come out as a teacher, scientist, politician and use material reason to build your cases, and you will be successful, whether you are atheist, or not. That shouldn't matter. Atheism, or the New Atheist movement shouldn't be about gaining new members, or adding people to the team, it should be about ways to debate which use material evidence, which should be more convincing to a wider audience then reason based on faith. Consider the following example. A politician hears God tell him to end tyranny in a country, so this politician tries to make a case for military action, but his evidence isn't very strong, and some of it is biased. He knows this is the right thing to do, because God told him to do it. Why is this politician trying so hard to build up material evidence for military action? Because that is what the law demands, and it's most convincing. If this politician came out and made the case for military action because it's what God wanted this politician to do, even though the US has a majority Christian population, that reason alone isn't good enough to convince most people.

On the other hand, in ethical debates, for example, on stem cell research, should an atheist scientist come out and say, "There is no god, therefore there is no soul which enters the cell at fertilization, so an aborted fetus shouldn't be treated the same as a pregnancy carried to full term."? Are ethics always based on the status quo, on public opinion? If so, is it important to ask questions, philosophical questions, and have the debate, rather then accepting rules established by religious leaders, or even secular leaders?

So, in short, atheism isn't a religion, but that doesn't mean that activist members don't act like activist theists. Teaching evolution isn't promoting atheism. Just because education is secular, doesn't mean it's an atheist organization.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Should atheists call themselves nothing?

Sam Harris doesn't think atheists should call themselves atheists. It causes too many problems, and starts a debate which can't be won. The focus should be on stopping irrationality whenever it rears its ugly head. Not all religions have extremists, after all. And, not all Christians think the world is 6,000 years old, Jesus is coming back soon, and God made the 35W bridge fall down to punish the wicked city of Minneapolis for being so nice to gays. Is science and reason enough to stand on when making arguments against a Young Earth Creationist? How can you refute their claim that the earth is 6,000 years old, and that Noah's Flood caused the formation of the Grand Canyon? No matter what material evidence is presented, the answer will be that God put those things there, or presented that evidence to question your faith, if the evidence doesn't support their claim, and when evidence does support their claim, then that evidence wasn't planted by God to fool you, it's evidence that they are right.

Is this then end for atheists?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Freethought Coming Out Day CASH Event Notes

This is my collection of notes I wrote while at the latest CASH Event for Freethought Coming Out Day. Visit for more information about Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists.

Freethought Coming Out Day Notes


This speaker was raised Catholic, and questioned his faith around confession. He didn't really feel relieved after confessing all the bad stuff he did. He went on a few mission trips, eventually identified as agnostic after talking with a philosophy teacher. Later he worked with Jehovah's Witnesses, and eventually became a Jehovah's Witness. As he studied in high school and college about history, he had a problem trying to reconcile history with religion.


This speaker met a girl in sophomore year in college. After dating for a few weeks, he told her he was in the National Guard, so he might be called up. She was OK with that. He then told her he wasn't religious. She wasn't OK with that. She hoped that Jesus would revile himself to him. This all turned out for the best, because he met his current girlfriend at C.A.S.H.


Speaker #3 was raised by atheists.


This speaker was raised Mormon, and really didn't want to go on a mission when he was 19. This has been hard for him, because of how his family has reacted.


Speaker #5 was raised atheist, and had a hard time with people who were religious when she came to college. When she heard that people actually believe in God, she would say, "You're kidding, right? People still believe that?" She has since learned to be more tactful.


This speaker was raised Catholic. He lapsed because he didn't like the bureaucracy. He later became more evangelical and established a personal relationship with Jesus and followed a God is Love philosophy. Later this came to a head when a girl he dated killed herself after an argument they had together. He felt empty, that God had left him. The more he studied philosophy, the more atheistic he became, and the happier he's been.


This speaker was raised Catholic and became an atheist at college.


This speaker wasn't raised religious, and identifies as an atheist.


This speaker identifies himself as agnostic. His mother is Jewish, his father Lutheran. He's a political science major. He attends Unitarian Universalist services, and was one of the only people there during a "Coming of Age" service who was agnostic, with most people identifying as atheist. He respects other's beliefs.


Speaker #10 always had doubt. She read the Bible, and thought that God acted like a child in the Old Testament. She hated going to church, and started going to C.A.S.H. in college. She eventually identified as an atheist, but hasn't told her mom because she's afraid it would ruin their strong relationship.


This speaker was raised Catholic. His dad is passionate about God and Jesus, but doesn't go to church. His mom had a problem with the church, so they didn't go much. He attended a Catholic elementary school and felt like when he was praying, that he was talking to himself. He read the Bible by the time his was 12, and came to the conclusion that God acted like a child, choosing to smite whole groups of people just because they didn't believe in him. He thought the idea of heaven was great, but was terrified of hell. He really wanted to believe in God, but just couldn't. He didn't come out to anyone until he was 15 during a religious studies class. When he told his mom, it sparked off a two year fight.


Speaker #12 was always skeptical, and became an atheist after reading more about it on the Internet.


This speaker argued moral philosophy in school, and identifies himself as agnostic.


This speaker wasn't raised religious, but identified as an atheist after reading Bertrand Russel's book, "Why I Am Not A Christian."


This speaker has been called stupid for being an atheist and thinks that praying to God is similar to making a wish list for Santa.


This speaker's dad is Jewish, his mom is Catholic. They weren't really that religious, and didn't attend church, until they moved to Georgia. She liked the idea of God, that there is this being watching over you, but when it came time to really believing the rest of Christianity, she couldn't do it. She'd get curious, and go to church with her friends, but think it was all nuts. She read the Bible and thought it was ridiculous. She identified as an atheist after reading Sam Harris' book, "The End of Faith."


This speaker was raised Hindu. She doesn't like the concept of being born into a religion, that people should choose for themselves what they believe. Her parents didn't push religion on her, even though they are devout. She doesn't have any problem with people who choose to practice a religion.


Speaker #18 was raised Methodist. He started having serious doubts in 9Th grade, but felt like he couldn't come out. He was still terrified of hell. He began to feel more comfortable in college, and started a group called Campus Atheists and Agnostics in Nebraska. He didn't tell his parents, they happened to find out from reading a campus paper which featured his group.


This speaker was raised Catholic. Her family thinks she's just going through a phase. Her atheism has caused some problems in her family. For example, her sister is having a baby, and is upset because she can't be the baby's godmother.


This speaker was raised Catholic and went to Catechism. She felt guilty and didn't buy the whole idea of God. She later identified as pagan, then attended an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church, and really liked it. She enjoyed talking with a priest who showed her that really smart, rational people can be Christian too. She identifies herself as an Atheist/Buddhist. She's OK with whatever people want to believe, just don't be a jerk about it.


Speaker #21 was raised a conservative Catholic. In 8Th grade she became a "Bible Thumper." She started questioning things about God, like, "Why does God exist?" She answered that for herself, "He doesn't."


This speaker was raised Buddhist, but found it hard to learn much about his religion in North Dakota. He's still seeking out his identity.


This speaker was raised Catholic. He started to question his faith in college. He didn't think that Catholicism had all of the answers, that there was something missing. So, he started attending every church service he could find, seeking truth. He still believes in God, and is still searching for truth.


This speaker was raised atheist.


Speaker #25 was raised Lutheran. He just didn't buy it. He started wondering why we believe what we believe. He went through Confirmation. He came out on Darwin Day last year, and came out to his parents by leaving a copy of RichardDawkin's book, "The God Delusion," in their car.


This speaker was raised Episcopalian. He started getting into science and rational thought at an early age. He would study all he could about the natural world. Kids at school started calling him an atheist in 6Th grade because he didn't believe in God. He's kept that identity to this day.


This speaker was raised Catholic. He was an enthusiastic Catholic and grew up in a small town where the church kept the social order. He started questioning God's miracles, and how could they balance with the physical laws of nature. Then he went to college, felt like God wasn't answering his prayers, became agnostic, and now identifies himself as atheist.


This speaker was raised as a conservative Christian and questioned why he was Christian. His parents are really rational people. He calls himself agnostic.


This speaker was raised by non-religious parents. He has never gone to church, and is proud to not know anything about the Bible. While his immediate family is non-religious, his extended family is, which causes some problems.


This speaker was raised Catholic. His parents are really rational. He believes that his father only practices Catholicism because it would negatively impact his business if he wasn't seen attending church once in a while. His grandmother is a radical Catholic. He recalled how difficult it was when another family member became a Jehovah's Witness.


This speaker was raised Christian and still identifies as Christian. She doesn't like the structure of religion, but believes there is something there.


Speaker #32 was raised Catholic. Her family left the church when she was young. She started to think about God in middle school, and really wanted a personal relationship with God. She just couldn't do it. She calls herself Unitarian, not atheist.


This speaker was raised non-religious. His crazy grandmother scared his dad from religion. He identified his beliefs as "nothing," and then started to think there was something there. He did attend a meeting of Campus Crusaders and they scared him off when they started singing songs about Jesus coming back soon.


This speaker was always skeptic. The parents of kids in the neighborhood didn't like him because he put thoughts into the kids heads in church. He calls himself a secular humanist.


This speaker was raised Catholic by Polish immigrants. Her mom was an atheist. She went to an all girl Catholic school. She took religion classes for 13 years, and got tired of making stuff up about faith. She feels relieved to find a group of people she identifies with.


This speaker works for Atheist for Human Rights. He read a piece he wrote about coming out as an atheist. he explained his people don't come out out of fear, that change is too great a challenge or people try to avoid conflict.


This speaker was raised an Evangelical Lutheran. He couldn't find the answers he was searching for even though he as very active in church. He later became a theology major to find answers, and only found more questions. The definition of who he was started to fade from Christian to atheist. His mom found out, but he hasn't told the rest of his family.


This speaker was raised as an Evangelical Lutheran, but his parents we not really that religious. He's on the fence on the issue of the existence of God. He doesn't believe in heaven or hell and calls himself a humanist and a skeptic. He has not told his parents about his identification.


This speaker was not raised in a religion. His father had served in World War Two, and became soured on religion from the Nazi's. His family went to church now and again. He suffered from a snowboarding accident which resulted in frequent muscle spasms which required hospitalization. During 10Th grade, he was admitted into the emergency room 3 or 4 times a week. He was told by doctors that he probably wouldn't live through high school, that he would have a heart attack. On that realization, he thought it would be good to find religion. And he did. With zeal, he became a model Christian. He talked with Jesus like his was his buddy. He attended church as often as possible, including Bible study, and youth group. He ignored friends who cared for him to read the Bible or attend church. He was so concerned about getting into heaven, that it began to stress him out. Heaven was all good, but what if he did something to get into hell? Would that passing glance at a girl cause God to give him a heart attack, and send him to hell? This stress became worse, and he did have a heart attack. Christianity almost killed him. He drifted towards Deism, and notices that the further away he drifted from Christianity, the better he felt, and the less stress he had. He started getting involved in Christian groups again, and had another heart attack. Seeing this as a sign, he hasn't looked back on the narrow path Christianity had for him, where nearly anything you did caused you guilt and stress. He studied evolution and cosmology, and just couldn't buy the whole "God of the gaps," idea where the answers of unknown questions is always God.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Minnesota Orchestra Season Opening

If you aren't planning on seeing any shows at the Minnesota Orchestra this year, you had better think again. Jeannette and I had the opportunity to see the Season Opening this last Saturday. It was amazing. Emmanuel Ax played Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. It was remarkably complex, and played so naturally, you forget it's a man playing an instrument. The same can be said for the orchestra playing the next piece, Gustav Holst's The Planets. Without prompting, you can tell what you are expected to feel during each planet's song. This is different then other classical music which can require a back story first, and then it's, "Oh, that's what the composer was trying to do."

The night topped off with a champagne toast with the conductor, Osmo Vänskä. If you haven't seen a show in a while, go now!

Muslims get interest free loans from Minneapolis

If you're Muslim, it's against your religion to make or receive interest. It's against Sharia’a. Now, do you think there are no banks in Islamic countries? Of course there are. They use loopholes to ensure money is made without violating Islamic law. Despite that, the city of Minneapolis has a program to spur economic development, part of that plan offers no interest loans to people whose religion prohibits them from traditional loans. Economic development is important, and small business loans can get struggling businesses off of the ground, but should someone's religion play a part in whether that loan is interest free or not?

From the latest mayoral update:

Growing an Economy That Works for Everyone
Mayor Rybak also promoted Minneapolis’ strong, growing economy and pledged more than $11 million in workforce development and economic development strategies in 2008, including:

* $1.5 million for job training and placement programs that successfully placed 14,000 hard to employ city residents into unsubsidized private sector jobs last year
* $4.7 million dollars of small business financing tools, including innovative loans with no interest to business owners whose religious beliefs restrict them from receiving traditional interest-based financing
* $2.1 million for the Great Streets Neighborhood Business District program that focuses economic development on key commercial corridors like West Broadway and Franklin Avenues
* $16 million to improve housing options and strengthen Minneapolis housing market, including $6 million to continue implementing the City’s strategy to address the foreclosure crisis

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wireless Minneapolis

I called in yesterday about Wireless Minneapolis service provided by USI Wireless. The 6mbps service has been dropped for now, no one can really get that fast of a connection. The focus is more on getting full coverage of the city, getting subscribers, then worrying about increasing the speed. That makes sense, as they'd be under the gun to provide full coverage, period, for city use in police cars, and the like. Its easy to see how other muni wifi projects fail, there is so much you don't know about wifi coverage and performance until you start hooking things up. I was in downtown yesterday can coverage at the Chipotle was spotty using the touch, but USI does caution that beefier antennas will offer the best experience, however, that isn't an option on such small devices. Then again, you'd have to double the number of access points to provide service to those gadgets anyway, which would be too expensive, at least right away.

I'm holding off on ordering service until it hits my home. The roaming service is good, but too small of an area.

Elvis Costello

Jeannette and I saw our first Minnesota Orchestra show of the season, with an opening by Elvis Costello. The performance features original compositions by Costello for orchestra, as well as some well known songs with orchestral arrangements by him, or others. All in all it was a pretty entertaining night, Elvis Costello can be a great entertainer all by himself, without the need for flashy lights, video screens, or costume changes. I thought the integration of jazz with orchestra was refreshing in, Il Sogno, a full orchestral piece, a ballet after Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The show at Orchestra Hall is part of a demanding tour appearing with orchestras, at times, in a different state each night. This is the last leg of his tour with shows on the east cost until October.

Oh, and Jeannette does have Elvis Costello like glasses.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a me, iPod Touch

More details on the Touch later!
Geek Geek Geek Geek!


The keyboard stinks when vertical. Of course, this could take some getting used to. Jeannette thought that the lack of a stylus was dumb, because it was too hard to hit the right key. At least this is a software problem for now, and could be updated with new firmware, or some third-party modification. The repetitive typing for websites is unnecessary, because the touch does keep a history, like most browsers do.

No flash. I knew about this, but decided that wouldn't matter. Well, it does, but so far web browsing on the touch has mainly been for reading news or blogs, not for playing games or streaming music from Pandora. The Nokia 770 I have does a good job with its Opera browser, but it's slow, and unstable with sites will to much web 2.0 stuff on it. However, the 770 can tether through my LG Chocolate via bluetooth to get access to the EVDO network on Verizon, and the touch can not. In fact, the 770 let me know that touch landed, called over to the Apple Store, booked it over there, and scooped one up. 16 GB is really enough space, if you manage your playlists properly. The people wanting the carry the Library of Congress in their pants are just a bit lazy.

Videos are the best part of the touch. I'd been missing out on some video podcasts, and now I can catch up with them. The video iPod gets to stay in the car, feeding my stereo with not only my music, but Jeannette's as well. While the old iPod serves its purpose, I can wander around and watch videos. While we were waiting for the Elvis Costello show to start, Jeannette and I watched an episode of Atheist Talk TV which I appear in.

Music sounds great, Coverflow still stinks. Half of my music didn't get album covers for whatever reason, and I don't think of my music belonging to an album anyway, so it's not a good tool for finding anything I'd be looking for.

Photos look great on the screen. Who knows, maybe the iPod will start replacing wallet photos?

I use the video iPod everyday, and the touch should be a good addition. With the introduction of municipal wifi in Minneapolis, for as low as 18.95 a month for 3mbps when paid a year in advance, the touch may become more useful, to be used in those times when I've forgotten where something is, when something starts, look up reviews of restaurants, etc, in addition to playing videos and music.

Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Paint the Bridge

CASH, the best damned group at the University of Minnesota, painted their sign on the Washington Bridge yesterday. Check out their sign, and stop by Thursday's at 7 PM in Coffman Memorial Union in Room 323 to meet your friendly campus atheists.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Most Americans Think The Founders Wanted to Create A Christian State

The First Amendment Center released the results of a new survey on American's views of freedom of religion, speech, and press.


28% believe the freedom to worship granted by the Constitution does not apply to fringe or extreme groups.
65% agreed the founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation.
55% agree that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.
58% believe teachers should be allowed to lead prayers in public school, down from a high of 65% in 1999.
80% agree the Bible should be allowed as a form of literature in English class, up from 75% in 2000.
88% agree the Bible should be allowed as a text in comparative religion class, up from 85% in 2000.
50% believe the Bible should be used as a factual text in a history or social studies class, down from 56% in 2000.
18% believe public school programs in December should be secular, rather then hosting Nativity reenactments or featuring music from the Christian tradition.
60% believe that people should be allowed to say things in public which may offend religious groups, up from 46% in 2000.
41% believe people should be allowed to say things in public which may offend racial groups, up from 23% in 1997.
25% believe the First Amendment goes too far in granting rights, that is down from 39% in 2001.

Generally, respondents believed that rights granted by the First Amendment were essential dropped by 10% between 2002 and 2007.
Attitudes on the media, including reporting false stories, or reporting without bias have changed little between 2004 and 2007.

74% believe that students should not be allowed to wear a t-shirt with a message others might find offensive.
50% agree students who post entries in social networking sites while off-campus, like, which may be disruptive to school classes should be disciplined by school officials.
15% of respondents get their news mostly from the internet, with declining numbers in radio and newspapers, but an increase in television, since 1997.
38% would approve of an amendment prohibiting burning or desecrating the flag.
The responsibility of keeping inappropriate material on television has shifted from parents to broadcasters since 2004, with an 87% to 74% drop in respondents holding parents responsible, and an increase from 10% to 19% on broadcasters.
40% of respondents want a specified amount of "positive" news in return for licenses.

You can see the paper here. The sample size is 1003, margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percent, and the survey was conducted between August 16, and August 26.