Saturday, October 16, 2010

Atheism and Religion and allying ourselves with the right people

These past couple weeks/months have seen a lot of outspoken Atheists doing good work.

Dan Savage has started the It Gets Better project, an internet campaign for bullied GLBT youth. Foundation Beyond Belief, an ongoing source of good for the secular community, has released its most recent list of beneficiaries.

In the last few weeks, I've been keeping a vague eye (I'm in the middle of student teaching, so vague is probably the strongest term at this point) on the goings on between FBB and Soulforce as documented on Hemant's blog. There has been a lot of concern regarding Soulforce's religious affiliations. Particularly, that because they are religious, FBB shouldn't be giving them money, which is a valid point...I suppose.

Across the internet, we see the IGB project going strong and, in particular, we see a Texas City Councilman, Joel Burns telling the story of his childhood during a Council meeting, but on The Digital Cuttlefish, we see a topic comparing Joel Burns and Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire for the Episcopalian Church. Again, what we see is a diminishing of the contributions of a religious person specifically because of their religious message...and this time we don't even have the facade of "Well...this is supposed to support an Atheist cause" to hide behind.

Over the last few years as the Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon Churches have been making homophobic, racist, sexist, etc...statements carte blanche, our first question we ask is "Well, why do Queer people, black people, women, and a host of other groups actually stay in the church if it is subjugating them so?"

But now we see a number of religious organizations (I mean, the Bishop of New Hampshire is gay, for goodness sake) stepping forward and saying, "No. This is wrong, fellow religious people. We must stop this and we shall work toward it." and we have the audacity to say, "Well, you have a religious message, so I'm going to downplay what you have to say."

My mind was completely blown when I saw the message by Dale McGowan on Friendly Atheist.

First of all, let's not get any delusions about what they are there for.

Of course they are going to have a religious message. They're religious. They aren't out there for US. They're out there for one reason and one reason only, to preach a "gospel of tolerance" to their fellow Christians. They aren't going to get there without using the ethos of their creator. What was it that they were expecting Soulforce to be doing? Beating religious homophobes with Festivus poles?

Does it really diminish the message that homosexuality needs to stop being discriminated against and talked about in a hateful context by religion because they, themselves, are religious?

I don't think so. Indeed, I think an organization like this is going to end up being the only working entry point to take care of religious homophobia. But, we need to be careful to understand that, to get the rest of the religious groups on our side, we have to talk like them...and sometimes that means finding allies that ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN GOD. I mean, it's not like they're talking to us...they're talking to their fellow religious people. Just like how when Gene Robinson is talking and saying "God" 14 times and talking about how "God loves you beyond your wildest imagining" he isn't talking to Atheist GLBT kids.

As if we actually need to hear that.

Who do you think he's talking to? He's talking to the kids who go every Sunday to church and wonder why "God made them different." Why "God allows bullies to make fun of them if they were created in his image." Do you think that telling a little kid who's already distraught because he's bullied for who he is that "God doesn't exist" is going to be of any help at all?

Of course not.

I agree that, perhaps for us, saying how much God loves all of his gay creations too, to us, would feel like a watery broth compared to the sumptuous "Not mentioning god at all" speech that Joel gave...but we aren't the audience here...and we were never intended to be. The audience that Gene is looking to reach with his speech is one of people who are internally tormented every day by a creator they revere but think doesn't care about them because of who they are.

And if anyone has the ethos to put that message across to all the homosexual Christians out there, it's him.

So, I understand that Bishop Robinson talks about god etc...and that religion is bullshit etc...

But there are plenty of people who are gay that aren't atheists...and if we should presume that the only people that deserve to hear this message are secular people, then we are just as bad as the bullies and the parents indoctrinating their kids.

To a young religious gay kid, that speech by Bishop Robinson will be able to touch places in their hearts that Councilman Burns' never could.

So, let's get our heads on straight here, Atheists:

The fight against bullying by religious groups for the GLBT community is important because it directly mirrors our own struggle, but we can't shut down when suddenly we have to start working with the groups that share our message of tolerance in spite of the rest of what they think.

For Bishop Robinson, that meant letting his young Christians know that there will still be a place for them in God's eyes regardless of who they love.

For Soulforce, that means working with other religious groups to help them come to the realization that, just like for them, homosexuality doesn't have to be "an abomination in the eyes of the lord"

Is it the only thing that Foundation Beyond Belief could be spending their money on? I suppose not; but, at last glance, the Human Rights category has nothing in it now. So who is FBB helping by not sponsoring ANYBODY?

Edit: Hemant says, "FBB will be announcing a replacement for Soulforce in our Human Rights category in the next day or two. We just want to be *extra* sure we're not replacing one mistake with another :) I think people will be happy with our decision"

This is an excellent thing. Thanks for the update!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can anybody tell me what the point of this is?

So I'm watching TV and not fast forwarding through the commercials and I come upon this:

The Lysol No Touch Hand Soap System

At first I think, "Hmm...This is cool, I guess..." Because it's like 11:30 and I'm apparently delirious.

Luckily, I come to my senses and realize


Let's begin by dissecting the claims made by Lysol, shall we?

Introducing, a revolutionary new way to help stop the spread of bacteria.
So, what is this revolutionary advance bringing Lysol to the washing your hands technological forefront???

A sensor automated soap pump. Oh snap.

Which would be great except I've seen stuff like this at gas station bathrooms...and I'm pretty sure those are the places last on the list to ever get technology to make things cleaner.

It isn't even the fact that they're touting this product as freaking God's Gift to Cleanliness...It's that they say shit like this (emphasis theirs):

Hands may come into contact with millions of germs every day. Hand washing is one of the most important steps to help stay healthy. But have you ever thought about those germs ending up on your soap pump?

Fact: Your soap pump can harbor a lot of bacteria.

Introducing the LYSOL® No-Touch Hand Soap System, it automatically senses your hands and dispenses just the right amount of soap that kills 99.9% of bacteria.

For use in the kitchen or bathroom, the antibacterial hand soap is enriched with moisturizing ingredients and comes in three great scents!

Never touch a germy soap pump again.

Hooooly crap.

So...the big advance comes from not getting germs on your hands after touching the soap pump?

Aren't you...washing your hands right after...anyway? I mean...nobody is just touching the top of the soap pump for shits and giggles and then running away, right? Well, somebody is, I'm sure, because that has to be the only way that this could possibly help.

I mean, perhaps I'm alone here, but I find this to be a gigantic waste of money.

I find it absolutely insulting to my intelligence that Lysol would put out a product like this.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aaron McGruder vs. World

Perhaps Aaron McGruder isn't subtle or tactful, but he's always hilarious and USUALLY right.

The Boondocks has been one of my favorite comics (second only to Calvin and Hobbes) ever since it entered the papers. My biggest lament about the comics section is that Aaron McGruder's masterpiece stopped showing up on a daily basis.

When he started work on the TV series, I think I've never been so overjoyed.

Perhaps the best thing about his move to television is that, since he joined Adult Swim, he was able to say a lot of things that he certainly was unable to say in comic form...mostly because he didn't have to worry as much about parents complaining about what their kids were seeing in their newspapers (or so I assume.)

In the transition from print to television, a lot changed about his characters. While Huey, Riley, et. al. were just as witty, they became far more acerbic. The characters, now far more pronounced in expounding upon their (McGruder's) beliefs, refuse to mince words when discussing BET, hos, "soul food," R Kelly, etc...

I loved every second of it.

I loved watching this new no holds barred, no prisoners, no mercy, no bullshit Boondocks.

Aaron McGruder managed to take social commentary and turn it on its head. He twists and demeans characters, pushing everyone down to the lowest common denominator to prove his point and makes an asshole out of everybody who stands in his way.

In this most recent series, there has been a lot of controversy about a particular episode: the Tyler Perry episode, "Pause."


If you haven't seen it, you absolutely NEED to. Within two minutes of each other, there are Rocky Horror Picture Show, Peanuts, and Jim Jones references.

But, to be honest, McGruder is really REALLY hard on Tyler Perry, and whether or not it is entirely deserved, it is hilarious and generally on target.

Tyler Perry IS incredibly preachy. I've seen a number of his plays and I spend more time hitting the fast forward button through his jeebus songs than I do watching and laughing...which is saying something, because Perry is generally funny. But I'm hurt to see his response to this episode. It's one thing to express disapproval or even to say, "This was hurtful to me," but Perry has all but ensured that this episode will never be aired again by threatening to leave TBS in retaliation.

But, when watching these episodes, we do have to wonder about Aaron McGruder. He obviously has an axe to grind. He takes (hilarious, glorious) pot shots at famous people (although, just as often he'll make fun of everybody on either side of the issue) from behind his animated characters--which is his prerogative, and I'm certainly not going to tell him to change. I happen to generally approve of his message:

Show the grotesque and messed up people of the world how grotesque and messed up they really are. Allow the normally overlooked but potentially dangerous and destructive actions and traits that are common place in this society to run themselves to the worst possible conclusion and then explode in chaos, reduce peoples' arguments, EVERYBODY'S...even the ones you agree with to the absurd and learn to understand the possible repercussions of the shit we see everywhere but rarely think about.

Tyler Perry's butthurt about this episode, is no more well founded than those of the Islamic extremists who refuse to allow Mohammad to be drawn. Freedom of speech is what this country was built on, and it's what allows Tyler Perry to get up on stage dressed like a woman just as much as it is what allows Aaron McGruder to make fun of himself for it.

You can't have it both ways, Perry. Remember that.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Character Defense - Warning: Nerdy Post Ahead

I admit to being a gigantic nerdy geek-a-tron. I have been playing video games since I was but a young lad of six, I spent most of my life practicing a musical instrument instead of going outside and playing sports like all the other kids (my brief stint of wrestling in sixth grade, and six years of Little League notwithstanding), as the Internet grew in popularity, I used it constantly, and when I got to college, many of my fellow marching band fraternity/sorority members got me into Dungeons & Dragons.

I really like the concept of the game. It's effectively an immersive multiplayer video game. A game that allows you to create a character and then have it interact with and explore worlds that we could never actually go to, as boring mere mortals.

But, inherent in the concept of being *multiplayer* is that the characters must work *together* toward a common goal, be it retrieving the Obelisk of Eternal Despair, Slaying the Evil Brown Dragon plaguing the Kingdom of Centralia, etc...

That is, the team has to actually work as a team of some sort.

Things to Think About

Depending on the level of skill for the Dungeon Master, this can mean a number of things that the players and DM must think about...

*Splitting the party - Do you? Don't you? I don't particularly see the problem with having adventuring parties split allows for more freedom of movement, perhaps allows the game to move along more quickly, and allows the players to do things that their characters would be more wont to do.

*Party Alignment - When a Lawful Good character meets up with a Chaotic Evil character, generally they tend to be at there a way to be effective party members while still undermining everything the other person stands for?

*RP - How do you role play your character? Many parties don't particularly relish the roleplaying aspect of the game and would much prefer to have their stories told for them by the DM instead of actually talking in character, and only breaking out the dice and interacting with the world itself to steal something or kill someone...but some players relish the chance to transform themselves into Gargathan Smashington the Half-Orc Druid or Gamliel Pygmalion the Eladrin Wizard. (Yes, they're mine.)

Players who love to immerse themselves in their characters have even created backstories. They know where they've been, where they're going, and what they plan to eat for lunch. Some of my dearest characters are the ones who I watched grow from birth and then died of old age after battling some of the greatest enemies of their time (and sometimes...everybody else's, too).

But, because they have every single step plotted out for their characters, this sometimes causes problems with the rest of their fellow players and the DM.

The Inter-party Relationship

For those of us who have been playing for even a short time, we can all recall that one player who stubbornly insisted to follow their own path regardless of what the team wanted or needed...When met with the ire of the party, both in and out of character, the player simply shrugs and says "But, that's what my character would do!"

We, as gamers all, have been conditioned for years by playing RPGs to assume that since we are playing a character, we are the protagonist and everything that we want must come to pass...and then we play out our decisions and see where they leave us, regardless of consequences. We all do it because it's part and parcel to discovering ourselves and testing the limits of the world we have created around us.

But, in a party situation such as D&D, there are sometimes four or five other people with whom one shares the spotlight. The purpose of a party is that every single character gets great moments to shine, explore, and even fail spectacularly, and it is important that every character get the chance to do so.

That Weird Voice Coming From The Heavens: Playing God

The DM/player relationship is one of storyteller and storybuilder. The DM's job is to set the scene for the players, perhaps add ambiance with props and music or flickering lights and scary characters. The players' job is to take that scene and play it out and interact with the DM productively.

Nothing is worse than a campaign that feels like it is DM vs. Players. If the players are spending more time bargaining with you for re-rolls than they are role-playing...something is wrong.

If a player spends an entire day of in-game time engaged in espionage, even if there was not going to be anything of importance in the room that he went into...throw him a bone. Find someone to tell him a really juicy piece of information that he can bring back to the party, or barring that, a nice chunk of XP, a shiny new sword with a nifty enchantment, or a bag of gold for his trouble.

It's about positive reinforcement. You should always reward players for playing (and even more for playing well). Even if it doesn't always line up with your initial expectations for the game. If you have a NPC who was supposed to die, but didn''ll have plenty of time to kill him later if it's ESSENTIAL. This is a world of magic. Think of all the awesome ways he could die! If they can kill off Aeris in FFVII, you can find a way to kill off an NPC.

The important thing is compromise.

Likewise, as a player: If you are getting nasty looks from your party members and your DM has buried his head in his hands, this might be a sign that you are overplaying your role as a PC. Sometimes, it's important to think about "What your character would do" in a different sense: "What would my character do if he wanted this to run smoothly?"

Granted, there are situations where your character specifically doesn't want the campaign to run smoothly, and that's okay! Even so, consider only screwing up everybody's plans...every once in a while, or collaborate with the DM to have one big screw up that the party has to work through together.

There is so much fun to be had by everyone when playing any Table Top RPG, but it is important that everyone work together so that EVERYBODY has a good time. Keep your eyes and ears open and allow everybody to participate constructively.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chuck Norris has begun to annoy me.

When confronted with news, really any news, about The Boy Scouts, I usually shrug, smile, nod, and then not care.

But CN + BSA? That's just a recipe for awesomesauce.

So Chuck Norris has been blathering on about how beset with woe the Boy Scouts are by Obama.

Over the past months, a widely circulated e-mail has reported that President Obama is not signing Eagle Scout certificates, which only 4 to 5 percent of Boy Scouts attain.
...which is horrible! I'd better check Snopes and TruthorFiction to make sure that this is real!

Wait...What's that Chuck Norris? You've done our work for us and researched yourself?!

Categorically, Internet watchdog sites like and have classified the claims as "hogwash." But I have found a steady stream of White House whitewashing when it comes to the Boy Scouts of America.
That's good old Chuckie for ya! Just like in Walker Texas Ranger, he roundhouse kicked in to find the TROOF! And with that journalism degree he has, I'm sure he's...oh wait...

Now, the quote that gave me a lot of jollies on part one (Yes. Part one of three. Sit back folks.) was this quote right here:

Since President William Howard Taft in 1910, U.S. presidents have proudly fulfilled the position of honorary president of the BSA. But neither the honor nor event was highlighted in any official White House communication. Nothing said at the March 3 White House briefing. Nothing noted anywhere on the White House official website. Obama simply accepted the honorary presidential position behind closed doors in the Oval Office with seven or so Boy Scouts present.

On the other hand, on that single day of March 3, 2009, the White House considered all the rest of the following events as newsworthy enough to post on its official website:
"President Obama announces more key appointments," "President Obama and Vice President Biden announce investment in transportation infrastructure and jobs for Americans," "Message to Congress from president regarding export certification," "Remarks by the president and vice president on transportation infrastructure," "Vice President Biden to travel to Brussels to consult with NATO allies," "Highway spending from Recovery Act to create or save 150,000 jobs by end of 2010," "Remarks by President Obama on AFL-CIO executive council," "The first lady speaks to American servicewomen" and the "Remarks of the president to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Department of Interior."
Yet, not a peep mentioned about the president's acceptance of BSA's honorary presidency.

Could it be the 160th anniversary of the Department of Interior ranked of higher importance than Obama's acceptance of the BSA's position in its 100th year of celebration?

The man says things and doesn't actually think about the words coming out of his mouth.

Which is more vital to the operations and well being of the country? The Boy Scouts or the Department of the Interior?

Okay, whatever. That's fine...and then he manages to out do himself by saying this:

I suppose it's also coincidental that Obama was unable to attend the 100th Anniversary Gala of the Boy Scouts of America in his own backyard (Washington, D.C.) on Feb. 9, 2010. Why? Because that evening he had his first national press conference! Is it just me, or would you have delayed the press conference to any other evening in February to attend this unique centennial celebration of one of the oldest and most influential boys' organizations in U.S. history? How about at least a quick shout-out at the press conference? No such luck.

Oh wait...he's...SERIOUS?! I mean...let's assume for a moment (only a moment mind brain is already about to explode) that the Boy Scouts were of such national importance that they needed to be placed above the Department of the Interior. Would it, even then, follow that the President should be delaying this press conference just for them?

Also, I'm sure he totally could have said, "Now before I go, I wanna give a shout out to my homies in the BSA. We just dropped us a cent and now it's time to hit the dime. WURD!"

A "shout out?" REAAAALLY Chuck?

Aha, but all is not lost:

The president did, however, send a semi-congratulatory letter to the BSA on its centennial, though at the same time subtly distancing himself from being a celebratory participant: "I send greetings to all those celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. … I wish you all the best." Seems like a rather flat centennial note for the prospective honorary president of the BSA, wouldn't you say?
I'm sure the flowers and the stripper-gram got lost in the mail.

But then, can you blame Obama when, as Chuck Norris so artfully says himself:

...a series of lawsuits have been levied against the BSA because of its stand against atheists, agnostics and homosexuals.

And, perhaps, they have the right to have these sort of hilariously terrible practices. The worst thing that we as undesirable persons can do is ignore them and not pay for their atrocious fucking popcorn.

And then, of course, there's the whole thing about the BSA in Philly.

Norris talks of those poor souls like they're being evicted from their homes. When, in fact, since they're violating the city's nondiscrimination policy (you know, so they can be a program that receives government money, they have to follow...uh...rules.) they can't be housed (rent free) in a government building.

Boo Hoo...

You think you'd be sobbing so hard about this if it were some OTHER group that was being forced to pay like everyone else?

Of course, he makes a gay reference in this quote:

President Obama became the honorary president of the BSA in March of 2009, and the White House didn't even mention it. And ever since, any discussion or interactions with the BSA have been "don't ask, don't tell." And how could they, since the president would then have to publicly acknowledge that, as honorary president of BSA, he affirmed the Scout Oath, belief and policies, which prohibit atheists and agnostics from membership, and "avowed" homosexuals from leadership roles?

Of course! Because, as the "Honorary President of the BSA" he has actual power within the BSA. It's like being the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Gotta have someone who isn't a lifer in charge. So as Commander in Chief of the BSA, Obama should have purged the world of Atheists and Homosexuals by now! know, like it says in the Boy Scout Oath...

On my honor, I will do my best to keep myself morally straight.

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country;

On my honor, I will do my best to obey the Scout Law…;

On my honor, I will do my best to help other people at other times.

On my honor, I will do my best to keep myself mentally awake.

On my honor, I will do my best to prevent godless heathens and gays from being in the BSA.

Oh wait, what? That last one isn't actually in there? I just made it up? Well shit! Where in the Boy Scout Oath does it say that?

Oh the first one. Because all people who are straight or believe in god are moral.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's talk about America, shall we?

I have been waiting for years for a Harry Potter theme park. I am a nerd for this type of thing and I enjoy it particularly.

I'm a little disappointed that I might not be (in my current state, at least) allowed on one of the rides "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey."

But that's me. I am a little bit overweight. I am 6' even and I'm not a particularly svelte individual...although I don't think I could ever be one, even if I had no fat on me at all. I'm sort of built like a linebacker. (Is that really a bad thing, though?)

But here's the thing: America is becoming overweight. The average height of men in this country is approximately 5'9" while the average weight is approximately 200 pounds.

BMI (Body Mass Index) is approximately 3 units above normal on average, as well. (25 is considered healthy.)

This is a bad sign, I think.

Listen, I'm not saying that we should begin this nationwide campaign to run the Boston Marathon for next week, but come on now. If you are going to complain about not being able to fit on a ride, please do it after taking a good hard look at this guy.

If you aren't willing to keep yourself in shape, or attempt to make your way there, you don't deserve to complain when you can't be accommodated.

It's embarrassing. Absolutely! ...and, if we learned anything from Kevin Smith and his debacle with Southwest Airlines, we know that sometimes, people are douche bags about it. You should be treated with respect regardless of who you are and what shape you are in (or what shape you are and who you're in...but I digress), but if you are overweight and potentially unhealthy, you aren't entitled to RAISE A STINK if you cannot be accommodated for safety reasons.

And as for comparing Jeff Guillaume and Dwight Howard...well, they both might weigh 265, but consider the height difference, shall we?

If Dwight Howard can't fit on a ride, it's probably because he'd get his head cut off.

Friday, December 25, 2009

When I get bored I think about blogging...

...And luckily for you guys, I'm following through. I have been thinking about starting this blog up again. I'm not exactly sure what to talk about yet, but I think I'm going to try to get something regular up here.

So, for now, consider this my "Hello World 2.0"

Signing off