The Forcing of Bad Choices on Innocent Bystanders

I have a limited amount of respect for devout Muslims. Honestly, for any really religious people.

Probably pure arrogance on my part. If I peeled the attitude apart, somewhere inside there would be something like “Hey, I made it out of that hole. Why can’t they?”

Yet the emerging ethic in the atheist community seems to be that you don’t dislike the PEOPLE, you dislike the RELIGION. We want to see religion as a distinctly two-categoried thing, with victims in the pews and victimizers at the lectern (or, more likely, on the radio or TV screen). And you don’t want to go hatin’ on the victims. Hey, they’re already at a disadvantage, you know? Being victims and all.

But that seems a little naive to me. My experience was that the most energetic salesmen and enforcers of the thing weren’t the preachers at church or the stern-faced speakers down at Kingdom Hall. They were parents, aunts and uncles, cousins. It wasn’t the big people at church you had to watch out for, it was the little people at home.

If I had a nickel for every time my Wicked Stepfather told me what God wanted, or what God didn’t like, I’d have … well, a shitload of nickels. Certainly all the times in my adult life I’ve been castigated on some religious issue, it’s never been by an actual minister.

And it’s not just the things people say that matter, it’s what people do. If my religion/culture sanctions the killing of goats on the front lawn for an afternoon barbecue, that’s not a church event. But it’s still going to be visible, and disturbing, to the neighbors who don’t share my mores.

What makes me think of this is a story in PRI’s The World: For devout Muslim cabbies in New York City, parking tickets are the price of prayers

Roughly half of the city’s 40,000-odd cabbies are Muslims who hail from countries all over the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere — and a great number of the drivers are observant, praying five times a day. Which raises the question: How and where do these men on the move pray?

Answer: Anywhere. Everywhere.

Parking is the chief anxiety of every [observant Muslim] driver in New York. There are five daily windows for worship, some briefer than others. The prayer itself takes only 10 or 15 minutes to complete, but it must be done on time. Otherwise, it expires.

This is why religiously-committed cabbies will sometimes stop in front of hydrants, double park, triple park, forfeit fares and risk sizable tickets to stick to the day’s ritual schedule, especially on Fridays, when the most significant prayer of the week takes place.

If you’ve never been to New York City, I can tell you a great deal of the experience is the nightmare of traffic. And parking. Or rather, no parking. People in NYC casually gridlock intersections at every change of the traffic light, and streets that would normally be four lanes are squeezed down to two drivable lanes by double-parkers.

And if you don’t know what “double-parking” is, as I didn’t before I came here, it’s where there’s a car legally parked against the curb, usually at a meter, with ANOTHER car parked beside it, out in the driving lane of the roadway. It’s so common here, I’m not even sure it’s illegal. People just … do it. Driving in New York is a constant jockeying between lanes as one or more of them closes off ahead of you by double-parked cars and delivery vans.

So here come the nice Muslims — the ones we’d otherwise imagine as the victims of Islam, rather than Islam itself — double-parking, pulling in front of fire hydrants and filling bus stops with their taxicabs so they can pray for 10 or 15 minutes on the sidewalk. Five times a day.

My more liberal side instantly jumps in with “But if they’re nor hurting anybody, it shouldn’t be an issue!” And yet, if they’re parking in these places, or double parking, it’s still taking up a bit of the world — and if you drive in New York, damn, you know what I’m talking about — that is rightly not theirs, and doing it in the name of their religion.

Overall, when I read this whole article, and think about it, I feel sorry that the poor bastards believe they have to do this. They’re victims, no doubt. And I’d bet most of them at least try to find someplace out-of-the-way for this activity.

Still, I would hate to see this become one of those freedom of religion issues — as in “We have every right to worship in this way!” — that looks like a freedom of religion issue only as long as you ignore the rights and freedoms of the people driving the same streets.



Bullies With Four Legs, Bullies With Two

This video has come up a lot lately, posted or referred to by people who think it’s hilarious.

I have a rather different view of it. But  then, I’m the guy who thinks it’s mean to dress up pets in Halloween costumes:

I have an advantage over most people in that I had an extraordinary dog named Tito the Mighty Hunter, someone — and I deliberately say someONE and not someTHING — who managed to get it across to thick-headed me something of what goes on in dog heads. He did that by … well, I couldn’t begin to describe the process to you. But mainly he was just being himself, subtly encouraging me to stop TALKING AT him — which is what most of us constantly do with pets — and one day start LISTENING TO him.

What’s taking place in this video is bullying. The cats are bullying the dogs. And no, I’m not kidding.

And the people are letting it happen. Which means they, too, are bullies.

Tito the Mighty Hunter

Picture any one of the dogs in this video as a two year old, and the cat as an older child threatening to hit him in the face if he tries to pass. Now imagine the dog’s owner as the parent, gleefully beckoning the kid past the bully, laughing at how funny it was that he was afraid to pass.

On a feeling level for the dog, THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING. It’s not funny. Not the least bit “cute.” It’s mean as hell, and the dog knows it. But his stupid owner is unable to read the dog’s VERY CLEAR expressions and body language.

Now add this into it: If the incident DID involve kids, any decent bystander would stop it, maybe even call Child Protective Services. But these animals have nobody like that in their corner. They’re stuck with people who think it’s funny, people who are not just willing to let it go on, but who WANT it to go on, so they can laugh at it, so they can film it to show to others.

Think about it: If the dog actually did defend himself, he really might face getting kicked out of his home. A 70-pound dog who bites a 12-pound cat? Which one is the bully? Gotta be the dog. Gotta get rid of that vicious dog. But it would be the owner’s fault, not the dog’s, for allowing the situation to take place, for egging it on and not doing anything about it.

Question: How many dogs get adopted by prospective owners who already know that this animal will attack and possibly kill other household pets? Answer: Zero.

Pets are not toys. They’re conscious beings with feelings at least as intense as ours. It disturbs me that so many people, even plenty of pet owners, are either unaware of this or willing to ignore it.



Clarification of an Argument for Atheism

What follows is an excerpt from my book (Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith), specifically a section from Chapter 20: Uneven Ground, about a double standard in arguments about atheism. The double standard is that one side gets exacting scrutiny, while the other side too often gets a pass.

I made reference to the argument — “As I explained in my book …” —  in my most recent post, Beta Culture: Proposing A New Definition of Atheism, but so briefly I wasn’t sure it was clear. Hopefully this will help:

Millions of people who would otherwise be full-blown atheists self-identify as “agnostics” because, even though they’re pretty darned sure there are no such things as 3-part gods and holy virgins who amuse themselves by appearing on freeway overpasses, they feel ouchy about making what they consider to be a logically-insupportable statement to that effect. “Well, if I don’t search the entire universe and determine for myself that it contains no Parrot-Headed Jimmy Buffet Goddess, I can’t logically support the assertion that there is no such thing. So I guess I’ll have to keep quiet and allow for the reasonable doubt that She Of The Green Feathers might really exist somewhere.”

My point is this: in the loosely-argued domain of personal faith – which is where all statements of religion are made – the assertion of atheism is equally justified.

If you’re not going to apply the strict standards of logic and proof to the first one, you can’t single out the second one for harsh scrutiny. That would be like waving a white job applicant through while forcing the black applicant to undergo a battery of strict tests.

In this loose domain of personal faith, the two are equally supportable – there is a god, there is no god – and you can “believe” either one with perfect justification. Yet our civilization is seriously slanted to favor one, reject the other. So much so that if you attempt to equate the two, or assert the no-god position, you seem to be radically slanted the other way.

Atheism – in the domain of personal faith – is as justified as any other “belief.”

But there’s this other domain, isn’t there? The one where both assertions – god/no-god – have to pass the stricter real-world test?

I need to go off on a slight tangent here, to talk about the couple of different flavors of atheism.

What I’ll call “hard atheism” is the definitive statement “There are no such things as gods.” This is active disbelief, the certainty that these mystical superbeings don’t exist.

“Soft atheism” is the slightly less definitive statement “No specific god or gods have been proven to exist, and it’s a mistake to actively believe in them until there’s some proof.” This is more like “I’d be willing to consider that they might exist, but only if some supporting evidence shows up.”

My own feeling is that, after 20,000 years or so, and among the 8 billion or so humans ever to live on Planet Earth, if nobody has yet provided any concrete evidence for the existence of one or more of these gods, then for every practical human purpose the second statement is indistinguishable from the first. If you’re the least bit non-belief-prone, there’s no use wasting your personal time on the question of God’s existence until the sky opens up and an angry 70-foot-tall Zeus steps down with lightning in his fists. (Well, of course it’s going to be Zeus. What, you thought it would be that Jesus character?)

But back to this matter of logic and evidence: There’s an interesting little side-issue that few religious people consider when the question of God comes up, something that lives at the heart of proof itself.

Let me explain something about the mechanics of proof. If you believe a thing, say that All Men Are Dogs, you can’t prove the truth of that statement by getting a bunch of your sorority sisters together specifically for the purpose of talking about what dogs men are.  You can’t do it that way because none of you, come to tell your own horror stories of Life Among the Dogs, are able to view the question objectively. Objective conclusions can’t happen when everybody weighing in has an axe to grind.

To really determine the truth of the matter, you have to turn the question over to someone objective. Get it? Someone who does not already believe that all men are dogs.

The judge of the statement might decide, after hearing your evidence, that all men are dogs. She might decide that all men are not dogs. She might decide that no men are dogs, or that some men are.

But she has to start by not believing your assertion that all men are dogs. Only from that position can she objectively consider the weight of the evidence … which you then have to deliver. If you don’t trot out the evidence, and a good, solid lot of it, your assertion can’t be considered true.

That’s the way reasoned argument works. Every question has to be weighed from the viewpoint of someone who has no axe to grind. Someone who doesn’t already believe in the conclusion the proponent hopes to advance with her arguments and evidence.

Perhaps without knowing it, you already agree with the point: No matter how devoutly religious you are and how much you might insist that everybody should automatically accept the existence of your god, if you come into court accused of a crime, you want the jury to start by not believing the charges made against you. All of us know full well that a juror who already believes the truth of the charges filed against the accused is not a fair juror, and a great deal of effort is made to see that those people don’t get into the jury box.

The only way to be sure each claim or assertion gets a fair hearing is to have a judge who starts with a mind clear of belief in any particular conclusion. A skeptical judge. A judge who says “I don’t believe you right now, but I’m open to convincing. Prove it.”

Whether you’re proving that all men are dogs, or that a Subaru Outback is the best car ever made, or that your specific God exists, that’s how proof works. You start with someone who doesn’t believe it.

Or, given the lack of an objective outside judge, you yourself have to start by assuming the assertion under scrutiny isn’t automatically true.

You can’t logically, rationally prove the existence of your god in a court that consists of nobody but other believers. You can only prove it, really Prove It in some sort of objective, rational terms, in a court not already convinced.

Which means, as I said: If there’s evidence, you have to trot it out. You can’t just say “Prove that he doesn’t exist.” You have to prove that he does.  Otherwise, it’s no proof at all, it’s just you and your friends doing a triumphant circle-jerk.

In the arena of reason and evidence, every statement has to survive on its own merits. Religion can’t get a free pass. Every religious belief has to pass through the court of skepticism, held to the same exacting standards of logic and reason, as any other assertion of truth.

In other words, religion has to be looked at from a viewpoint free of religious belief, and in that viewpoint religion has to prove itself.

Putting it still another way, the default state of a rational mind considering the truth of religion is one of unbelief. You start with the lack of belief, and then the believers have to prove their case.

Which means: Every time you have a conflict of one person who says “I don’t see any evidence that a supernatural superbeing exists,” and another guy who says “God is real,” it’s the second guy who has to trot out the evidence. The god-believer is the one who has to do the proving.

Which also means: In the real world of reason and logic, the default viewpoint in any argument about the existence of supernatural superbeings is unbelief. Which is to say, soft atheism.

Which also-also means: Atheism is always logically justified.

So …

People who hold atheism to what they think are strict standards of logic are already demonstrating a very high degree of illogic, first when they fail to use that exact same standard in judging – on that same field of argument – each and every claim of religion, and second, when they fail to realize that atheism – unbelief – is the starting point for any proof of the existence of gods.

So the next time someone says anything at all about their god, we should all chime in with “When you can offer objective evidence that your god exists, then we might be willing to talk about it. Until then, you can’t logically make such a statement.”

It’s only fair.

Beta Culture: Proposing a New Definition of Atheism

One thing I’m adamant about in my thoughts on Beta Culture: That the people within it must be atheists. As I’ve said before here, if you haven’t taken the mental journey of freeing yourself from religion, Beta is not for you.

And again, if that sounds harsh, the foundational distinction OF Beta Culture is the idea of a culture – a community, a virtual nation – of people who are free of religion. Free in every aspect of their lives, including all that we’ve inherited socially. The goal is to build such a thing for the first time ever on Planet Earth, and see what happens.

Anything short of that, say a culture that had a friendly “Oh what the hell, why not?” relationship with religion and religionists, would be a simple extension of what we already have. What we have had, for countless thousands of years, and what has given us this society and world. Might as well start up a new church fellowship.

Thought Experiment: Beta Culture

Beta itself is a thought experiment, the thought experiment of “What happens when humans build a totally secular, absolutely non-religious culture? What happens when humans examine and reimagine every aspect of human society – family, personal relationships, business, government, every human endeavor – free of mysticism?”

When I say “re-imagine,” I mean the exact opposite of this: To accept everything that’s gone before, both the social structures and their philosophical/conceptual/historical underpinnings, and to simply branch out or build upward from there.

No, I mean: Go back and pick apart EVERYTHING for its mystico-religious elements, and re-imagine things, re-create them, without those influences. Tear civilization down to the bones and rebuild it from the ground up.

I’m aware that might sound threatening. But when I say Beta is not for everybody, I mean it both ways. It’s not something that everybody would fit into, but it’s also not something intended to be enforced upon those outside it.

Oh, I expect it to be a potent social force eventually, if it becomes what it could be. But I see that force as a protective measure more than a transgressive one. In the same way that gays demand equal rights, Betas will demand equal rights – FULL social access and equality. If some Catholic Bishop gets his nose bent out of shape by our existence, just as he does by the existence of gays, that would be HIS problem.

The array of rights heretofore allotted to the religious has been overly broad, in my opinion, but there’s very little I’d want to take away from them. At the same time, I would absolutely demand that same array of rights for Betas. If, for instance, Bishop Christian Blatherbot gets an engraved invitation to the Presidential Inauguration, I want someone in Beta to get that same invitation, to show up and make a visible statement that Betas belong there too.

Thought Experiment: Science

Speaking of thought experiments, here’s one we’re already doing – the thought experiment of Science: What would the physical world look like if there were no supernatural beings or mystical forces – at all – to have any effect upon it?

What would astronomy look like? What would chemistry look like? How would geology work? What are the mechanisms behind the emergence and development of life? How do human brains function? What can we discover about physics? How does weather work? How good can we get in inventing reliable electronic gadgetry?

Again, the preface of all those questions is basically “If there were no such things as gods and ghosts, supernatural superbeings or mystical forces of any sort …”

This is in the shared endeavor of science, mind you, but it’s possible to carry out that same thought experiment in your own mind.

Before we get to that, though, note this very important result of the thought experiment of science: Pretty much everything in modern civilization. Hell, if we hadn’t performed that experiment, we’d still be riding horses and driving carriages. Maybe we could have derived steam power from a belief in spitting, hissing demons, but I doubt we’d have gotten much beyond it.

Note that science didn’t have to PROVE the non-existence of gods and demons, chariots pulling the sun across the sky, or angels dancing on pins. It just had to perform the thought experiment of assuming that such things didn’t exist to affect daily reality – incidentally flying in the face of thousands of years of tradition – and absolutely incredible results began to flow out of it.

Finally, though …

Thought Experiment: Atheism

From my earliest days as a public atheist, I’ve been encountering people who say “Well, I’m an agnostic because you can’t PROVE there’s no such thing as God.” Not to mention those on the other side of the fence who chirp “It takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian!”

The second response doesn’t bother me all that much. I mean, they have to say SOMETHING, right? But the first one … I always see it as a failure to think about the thing in deeper ways.

As I explained in my book, there are actually two arguments at work in most discussions of whether or not gods exist, with a hidden unfairness insisted upon by traditional believers.

The first argument is strictly a faith-y one. On the basis of faith, you can believe in a god, or believe in the non-existence of a god, with perfect justification. A god-believer who says “I have faith this is true” can’t turn around and deny the disbeliever the same rationale. Neither can we. If we accept theism based on faith, atheism is perfectly justified by the same argument.

The fact that no atheist would WANT to claim “faith” as his justification – it would feel sort of self-defeating – is irrelevant.

The second argument is the rational one. In this case, both sides need some sort of reasonable evidence. NOT faith, but hard facts that support ones’ assertion.

The problem comes in when the goddy side, armed with nothing but faith in existence, then demands the non-goddy side trot out four-decimal-place evidence for non-existence. It’s not a level playing field; I’ve always suspected this is exactly the intent.

Besides, as we all know, you don’t have to prove something doesn’t exist. It’s the ones making the claim of existence who have to provide the proof.

But … perfectionistic non-believers fall for the argument every bit as much as believers, large numbers of us going through life carefully avoiding the label of atheist for the safer, apparently-more-defensible one of agnostic.

But suppose we as individuals, we as a society, perform this same thought experiment: WHAT IF no such things as gods exist … in our lives?

What does morality look like? How do we bid farewell to those who have died? How do we celebrate births? How do we accomplish charity? What does every other aspect of personal life and mind look like? How do we live, how do we THINK?

In the vein of science, the distance from Ben Franklin’s kite to computers is a staggering leap of progress, brought on by that one thought experiment.

I suggest that leaps of equal magnitude would become possible – would be unavoidable, I suspect – if we performed this same thought experiment in our personal lives.

I’m proposing that atheism can be defined as this slightly different thing than we’ve always thought it was. Not the seemingly indefensible statement “God doesn’t exist,” but this other, wholly rational, logically defensible, thing:

Atheism is the THOUGHT EXPERIMENT of “What if there are no such things as gods?”

We don’t have to prove gods don’t exist. We don’t have to do anything really, other than hold the idea in mind. We also don’t have to waffle and worry about whether we must call ourselves agnostics — “I don’t knows.” We can proudly and confidently call ourselves atheists – the people who perform in their daily lives the thought experiment of non-belief in gods – and feel perfectly justified in so doing.

And see what happens.



Short Stack #21

This 2013 thing hasn’t worked out all that well for me. I’m considering saying Screw It and moving to 2014. Still thinking. Maybe in a month or so, if things don’t improve.


Wahoo, Christmas season! Inflatable Santa and Frosty! Inflatable Rudolph and Snoopy! Inflatable Penguin and Husky, Scooby and Teddy and Charlie Brown! And most of all, Inflatable Snow Globe with Real Floating Snowflakes Action!

Bring ‘em on! I’m READY!!


Just this morning, I decided the Flying Spaghetti Monster could be called Skettymon in informal usage. I hope he doesn’t take offense and strike me down, but “The Flying Spaghetti Monster” in some uses is just too much of a – ha! – mouthful.

Holy Skettymon!
Skettymon bless you!
For the love of Skettymon!

See? Skettymon, Skettymon, Skettymon. Much easier on the tongue.

Plus, the final syllable graces the Pasta with Rasta, giving it a cool Jamaican sound.


I know we liberal-progressives are supposed to never wish anyone ill. But does that mean we have to stand by and pretend to be sad when bad stuff DOES happen to certain people?

Because, really, there are people who SUBTRACT from the goodness of the world. Wealthy, influential, famous people who make the world a worse place, just by being themselves, doing the things they do. Sure, it would be wrong to gather up in well-armed bands to pursue them and gut them like fish … but don’t we have the right to a quiet chuckle when life itself pays them their due?

Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Fox News execs — some of you vicious bastards, I don’t think even the Virgin Mary would shed a tear over your demise. Assuming I outlive you, I expect to someday enjoy a hearty guffaw in honor of your wasted, ugly lives.


When Dick Cheney dies, I’m hoping technology will allow us to raise flags to one and a half times the height of the flagpole.


I was thinking yesterday about how we view surgery. We say someone went in for a triple bypass and it was “completely successful” and that the patient will now be able to resume normal life. We have a sort of blithe picture of the seriousness of the thing, confident that surgical patients will somehow be “back on their feet again in no time, better than ever!”

But my own, relatively minor surgery – gallbladder removal – was accompanied by some noticeable side effects. I vomited for 8 hours after I got home, I passed out in the bathroom and bashed the hell out of my head while falling, and I experienced an episode of erratic heartbeat a day or so after that lasted only about half a minute but scared the hell out of me. There were (are) some long-term adjustments too; they’ve seemed minor, but they’re definitely there.

The truth is, I doubt that ANY invasive surgery is something you just sail through. Even the anesthesiologist at the hospital told me the anesthetic wasn’t good for you. (I suspect that short bout of erratic heartbeat was an after-effect of the anesthetic.)

In my own case, it was a fair trade. I had pain that was constant, long-term and debilitating. But it WAS a trade, not a free gift.

Never doubt it: Surgery is serious shit. Not something you want to just waltz into with perfect confidence and no questions.


I’m pretty sure gay marriage destroyed Comet ISON.


Every time you post a free picture of a kitten online, you throw a poor, starving cat photographer out of work. Every single one of them end up working in the Wal-Mart Family Portrait Studio.

You bastards.


A reminder on merchant-specific gift cards: If you give people CASH …

1) it costs less.
2) which means, they get more benefit.
3) besides which, it can be spent anywhere.
4) meaning, they’re not locked into Dunkin Donuts coffee, when what they really want is Starbucks.
5) also besides which, CASH is the one gift that never gets returned, unused or regifted.

To heck with the colorful $10 gift card. Tuck a colorful $10 BILL in there instead.


Ah, Friday, you bewitching wench. At last you arrive, with your spicy see-through Only 8 More Hours gown, sultry hints of Saturday and Sunday shining seductively through.


Don’t you ever think there aren’t REAL conspiracies against environmentalists and progressives. This shit happens every damned day, at every level. They put immense amounts of money into derailing activists.


Heh. I was just thinking: My mom taught me there’s a way to say “I love you” that sends the other person fleeing across three states. It’s cloying, grabby, demanding, guilt-projecting, and nerve-shredding.

Whew. Bad old days. One of the reasons I never did family. It’s also why I don’t often say “I love you.” —But when I do say it, I damned sure know how to mean just that, and not that other thing.

(And no, you don’t have permission to feel sorry for me. Nobody gets through life without slogging through a swamp or two.)


I’m generally in favor of the freedom to own guns. But I’m also WAY in favor of regulation.

One definitive law I’d like to see: If you or any gun you own are involved in an accidental shooting, you lose all ownership rights, and are never allowed to own or hunt again.


Overheard groaner: Yo mama’s so ugly that when she was a little girl she had to trick or treat by phone.


If you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, go easy on commenting on what it’s all about. Most of what I hear about it, both from its detractors (my side of the political-philosophical aisle) and its idiot fans (that other side) are obviously from people who haven’t read it, and don’t have any idea what’s in it (except what they’ve heard from others – jibes and praise from people who also probably haven’t read it).

Yeah, you might hate Ayn Rand with a passion, and that’s fine with me. But if you’re going to critique the BOOK, I suggest you read it.

And if your response to this suggestion is something along the lines of “I read the first chapter and just couldn’t go on,” to me that says something about YOUR attention span rather than the quality of Rand’s writing. I had no trouble at all reading it, several times, and actually thinking about it over a period of several years.

As to the philosophy detailed in it being about nothing but selfishness – no, it’s not. It’s a complex and brilliant work in which Rand got some things profoundly wrong, other things very right.

And by the way, from what I know of her from her writing, Rand would have vomited to learn that she’d become some sort of saint to the teabaggers. She would have violently despised both them and their congressional counterparts.


Decisions, decisions. I’ve brushed my teeth already. But there’s pumpkin pie and whipped cream.


Every morning I wake up energized, thinking “I’m going to be different and better today!” And every evening I go to bed knowing I spent the whole day still being me.



If we lived in the world where Clark Kent could never be recognized as Superman, every kid with new glasses coming back to school after winter break would instantly be challenged by his schoolmates:

Who are you and why are you sitting at Billy’s desk? What have you done with him? Talk, you bastard!


I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this, but …

It’s funny that they named him Dexter, when he’s so Sinister.


One of the things on my list of Life Goals is to hug a lion before I die.

Probably I should leave that one for the very last.


If I was an acupuncturist, every day on the way to work I’d walk through crowds poking random people with pins.

Hey, it’s for their own good. Like vitamins added to bread, really.


It’s interesting to me, in a distant way, that people care about their ancestry. Other than a family legend on my mom’s side that we’re all descended from a “full-blooded Indian chief” (a fantasy, I suspect) I don’t know much about my forbears. I actually met only ONE of my grandparents – my grandmother on my mother’s side – and have no idea what became of the others.

I attribute my good health to “mutt vigor,” and joke that I’m descended from a long line of trailer trash. “My people lived next to the train tracks and had chariots up on blocks in the driveway as far back as Ancient Egypt.” But other than the fact that some large percentage of my RECENT ancestors were Caucasian, I don’t know the least thing about them.

Would it make me feel better to know that I’m descended from Ben Franklin – or Sally Hemings! – or have royalty in my line? I don’t THINK so, but … who knows? I might find myself bragging about it, as if it somehow made ME a better person. When really, considering the remoteness of such links even if known, I might just as well brag about being a Homo sapiens, or a mammal.

Existing without preconceptions about who and what I follow, living as a genetic island, I focus on discovering and being the best ME I can be. That’s challenge enough.


A cop friend once told me he really believed a lot of people got into crime because they were literally too stupid to do anything else.


Seems to me it would be pretty easy to have a permanent setting on the shower that would be the EXACT temperature you want. I mean, as an engineering problem, *I* already figured an easy way to accomplish this.


I hope those book-delivering Amazon drones also take out terrorists. There are a couple of people in my neighborhood that seem a little iffy.


Within the broad complexities of human society, I think there’s a Man Tribe and a Woman Tribe. Neither totally understands the other, but both also have things they keep to themselves deliberately.

One of the current problems with online socializing is that the Woman Tribe doesn’t appreciate the Man Tribe’s sense of humor, and the Man Tribe forgets this fact in the midst of open discussion.


When I was younger, I thought the toilet paper roll end should go on the inside, next to the wall, so it looked neater. Now I know the roll end should go on the outside, so it’s easier to find.

Never tell me you can’t grow smarter as you get older.


Open-mindedness is rarer than diamonds. With any novel idea, most people approach it like bad critics go to see movies. They WORK to find something wrong with it, something bad about it. Any discussion that follows is nothing more than an argument about why they have to be right, and you wrong. Everything you might say in attempting to get them to take a broader or more progressive view of the thing, they can find some reason not to do that.


Now I’m wondering if commercial airline pilots spend a lot of time texting.


Hey, Hollywood! Where’s my movie of The Stars My Destination? I’m still waiting here, guys.


As a culture, we’re too optimistic, both in our own lives and in a larger sense of the way things are going in the world. If we were a bit more pessimistic, I think we’d have a clearer view of how much is going wrong, and take a more serious look at how to fix it.

On the other hand, that clearer view of our own lives would probably bring a sharp uptick in the number of suicides in Wal-Mart parking lots.


I think all childhood vaccinations should be given on Christmas Day. It would get the kids through the ordeal on an otherwise happy day, but it would also cut down on the little tykes demanding extra presents.

“Oh, look what Bobby got! Bobby, it’s another syringe! Let’s see what this one’s for!”


I guess I should just go ahead and confess this. I know I seem like a science fan and all, but …

I have never once in my life held an Erlenmeyer Flask up to the light and peered intently at a mysterious blue liquid.

In my defense, I only went to college two years. Probably Blue-Liquid-Filled Erlenmeyer Flasks were covered in the third year.


Can I just call you Hovawits? Jehovah’s Witnesses is just so looooong. And I’m not holding this door open forever, guys.


No f*cking way I’m going shopping on THANKSGIVING DAY to join in that silly Black Friday madness. Count me out, corporate America.


Someone brought a BABY to the freethinker’s group breakfast. I guess nobody told her there would be hungry atheists there.


A few days ago, I watched a guy walk within 3 feet of a public trash can and casually throw a big greasy sandwich wrapper on the sidewalk. I wanted to kick his legs out from under him and pound his face into the concrete.

If there’s ever an anarchist movement that wears Mr. Clean masks, I’m in.


“In God We Trust” was adopted by Congress in 1956. I was born in 1952! I’m older than God! (The one it talks about on our money, anyway.)


“If you buy a $1,000 TV for $600, you haven’t ‘saved’ $400. You’ve spent $600.”

Exactly. They set the original price, which was higher than you’d pay for the thing. Then they set the “sale” price, which persuades you that you’re getting this great deal, so you part with the money.

First they set the high price and capture all the people who have money enough to spend on the thing. When sales taper off, they bump the price downward, so they capture the slightly lower socioeconomic group willing to part with THAT amount of money. Repeat as necessary.

Because those poorer people? Most of them aren’t going to buy some lesser TV. They’re not going to buy any TV at all.

But when they see that fantastic “sale” price and discover they can actually SAVE $400, they’re suddenly certain they can’t pass up this limited-time deal. They’re going to get a fantastic TV and save hundreds of dollars.

Result: The TV manufacturer offloads onto you a thing you DIDN’T ORIGINALLY WANT. It probably wasn’t on your list of future purchases, or built into any sort of budget. The made you want it.


They trick you into buying, and you, with nobody to tell you there’s this other way to look at all these sales and special offers and coupons, fall for it.

The richer people get shanked too, though. After all, THEY bought the thing at its original inflated price. If you buy the TV for $1,000, and a day later the store drops  the price to $600 … where did YOUR $400 savings go? Right: Nowhere. Into the pockets of the manipulative, lying merchandiser.


I’m starting a new international group, Cartographers Without Borders.

We’re not quite sure what our eventual goals are, but we’re certain it involves something other than drawing lines on maps.


Thanksgiving: On Alternate Earth, everybody ate moa. (Their ovens must be a LOT bigger!)

The cool thing about Thanksgiving on Alternate Earth is that moa drumsticks are the only known food which can also double as a lethal weapon. Even in the bad part of town, nobody messes with you on Thanksgiving.


You non-horsey people probably can’t imagine falling asleep while riding a horse, but on a long ride in the wilderness, it’s definitely possible.

One a side note, one of the really cool things about a trail-wise horse is that he always knows the way home. If you get lost, drop the reins and relax. He’ll get you there.



Do I have to explain that? Hope not.


One of the many great things about Canadians is that you can poke fun at them without provoking a scream of “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD, WHY DO YOU HAAAAATE CANADIANS? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOOOOUUU???”

They just go “That’s funny, eh? Hey, how about those Maple Leafs?”

I put it down to a really solid sense of national self esteem.


I’ve never known a teacher who did an 8-hour-a-day job. They ALL did homework.


Haircut today! Yay!

Yes, when you get older, your life really is this boring. (I do plan to go out and hunt velociraptors later. Okay, I’m not saying I’ll catch any, but I’ll sure be looking.)


For weeks, someone was sending me vegetables in the mail – celery, rhubarb, swiss chard and asparagus.

Finally I realized I was being stalked.


Realized something today:

On a social platform known as FACEbook, I interact daily with hundreds of people …

… whose faces I have never actually seen.


Just now trying to figure out why my mouse isn’t working, I finally realize I’m rubbing my cellphone around on the desktop.


Cat food flavors conspicuous by their absence:

Innocent Little Spider on the Wall
Unidentified Bug
Cat Ass
Human Hand
Baby Rabbit


I keep on saying this: Atheist Groups should NEVER put up a billboard, display or monument without first putting up a number of hidden cameras around the thing, so the proud vandals can get their needed public exposure.


Thoughts on Daylight Savings Time:

Wait, Obama’s now forcing us to SET OUR CLOCKS BACK ONE HOUR?? Hey, I voted for a president, not a dictator!

Next think you know, it’ll be that communist-inspired metric system.

You can have my pounds and inches when you pry them from my cold, dead waist!


“If you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?” always translates in my mind to “If I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I be treated like the people who are?”


When I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, I was actually disappointed when the big beautiful Beast changed into that wimpy prince. I was thinking “Hey, if she fell in love with the Beast, what makes anybody think she’s going to feel the same about Prince Blandington Sissyknickers?”


Someday I want to hear a drug advertisement on TV where that fast-talking voice at the end says “Side effects may include good hair days, rock-hard buns, unaccountable social poise, and sustained periods of motivation and energy. Consult your doctor if you have the sudden desire to go on a hike lasting four hours or more.”


If someone you know uses the words “irregardless,” or “supposably,” it’s okay to put duct tape over his mouth and slap him repeatedly.

I think it’s an actual rule.


When I die and the universe ends, it’s going to be really rough on the rest of you. I’d like to be immortal and all, so you could go on with your lives and stuff, but being the center of everything can only take you so far.


I still say professional golf would be a lot more edgy and exciting if one ball in every hundred was filled with a powerful explosive.

But maybe that’s just me.


Couldn’t get on Facebook for a couple of hours. I was sure it was the Rapture, and all the Christians in tech support had gone off to Heaven.


If YOU call ME, don’t be carrying on a conversation with someone else when I answer, and then make me wait until you’re done.

Hey, I was busy when you called. I stopped doing what I was doing so I could see what you wanted. I figured it was important, that you needed to talk to me right NOW, or you wouldn’t have called. But if you’re too busy to respect my time like I just respected yours, I’m hanging up on you instantly.


As an atheist, my only plan for the afterlife is to have a surprised mortician say “Holy shit! This man has no tattoos!”


When I got my German shepherd Ranger the Valiant Warrior many years ago, I had lots of people tell me “Never give a puppy a shoe to chew on. They can’t tell the difference between the shoe you give them and your other shoes, and they’ll chew up your good shoes.”

I have to believe the people who said that had some really stupid dogs. Ranger recognized his shoe, the Puppy Shoe, and never once gnawed on my others. But then again, the Puppy Shoe was FUN. I’d put it on the end of a string and swing it around. He got to chase and catch it, and I got to tell him how wonderful and smart and fast he was for catching that wily thing.

Glory Days.


I’ve gotten an extremely unusual – for me, anyway – surge of energy and spent all day yesterday and today cleaning and organizing my room and computer files. I’m far from done, but I’m able to WALK AROUND in here, and I now know where ALL my photos, ALL my voice notes are on my hard drive. Usually I have to slither through the room, dodging this pile and that, and I’ve spent as much as three days searching for a single file on my computer.

I’m betting it’s some sort of rare brain tumor causing it all. I’ll probably get fully organized for the first time in my life, and then my head will just explode.

Later, weeping admirers will tour the site of my genius, and will say “Oh, he was so ORGANIZED and tidy! Would you look at it – every paper in its place! He’s even folded and matched the socks in his sock drawer. Organization … that must be how he accomplished it all.”


I live in a place where the main downtown library is a 10 minute walk from my apartment.

Great, huh? But my subconscious has recalibrated so that NOW I want the library to be open all night and to have a coffee house inside.


Back during the government shutdown, it occurred to me that the shutdown was not some unintended side-effect, but the actual goal of the Teapublicans. They INTENDED to destroy the U.S. government. Everything else is fluff.

That’s treason, that is.


My “Glass is Half Full” haiku to closed National Parks:

Clear stream sings to self,
Mountain soars, alone, unseen.
Bear wanders in peace.


Replying to a couple of people I deFriended over negative Richard Dawkins comments:

The problem for me is that there’s this large part of the atheist movement fixating on Dawkins, actively working to tear him down. And that pisses me off. It’s shortsighted and malignant.

I thought Hitchens was a complete idiot on Iraq. He never apologized for it, either, near as I can tell. And in that business, lots and lots of people died. But I still have immense respect and admiration for Hitchens. I still feel VASTLY grateful for what he’s done for atheism and atheists.

I feel the same way about Dawkins. But to some people, Dawkins is a target now. They’re LOOKING for reasons to hate him, to publicly denigrate him.

I don’t like that. I never will. I won’t be friends with people who do it.

God Crashes Train, Kills Four. Oh, wait …

This story caught my eye because it happened fairly close to a place in the Bronx I drive to every weekday.

New York’s subway system covers the city itself, but also extends itself about 75 miles north to Poughkeepsie. This part of it is called “Metro North,” and is a particular convenience to people who work in the city but choose to live a hour or so away in cheaper, safer towns.

That train derailed Sunday morning, injuring scores of people and killing four. Taking a 30-mph curve at 80 mph will do that for you. The investigation is ongoing.

For Daily Beast writer Michael Daly, one fascinating side-light of the story was the “humanity at its best” angle, where  non-critically-injured passengers, recruited by rescue workers, pitched in to help those more badly hurt.

Amazing Grace in the Bronx: Inside the Metro-North Train-Wreck Rescue

The better-off passengers applied gauze to the wounds of others and offered whatever aid and comfort they could as the firefighters attended to those who were most seriously injured.

It’s a touching and uplifting aspect of the tragic event, and I’m glad this part of it was told. The bulk of the story is about how helpful and cooperative everybody involved was.

The story goes off the rails (see what I did there?) in the last four paragraphs, descending into what I can only call blatant preaching. The human interest story ends, and the article shifts into goddy blather worthy of the Religion page:

The four dead from this Thanksgiving weekend wreck of 2013—who included a media consultant named Jim Lovell, on his way to help prepare the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center for the annual lighting—were a reminder that our most fundamental blessing, the gift of life, is forever subject to happenstance. You need only chance to sit in the wrong seat on the wrong train. A good many survivors afterward offered thanks to a higher power instead of simple blind luck.

“God is good!” exclaimed a 19-year-old college student.

“Thank God!” said the husband of a conductor.

If God is in goodness just as the devil is in evil, then God was indeed manifest in all those battered and shaken people who heeded the call from the firefighters to help somebody more injured than themselves. Ellson knew just what to call this kind of grace. “Amazing.”

I’ve come to expect nice Christians to thank God for all those times surgeons and paramedics, cops and firefighters  save their lives … but I doubt I will ever really get used to it. And I doubt I could ever respect a reporter who dons pulpit clothes in the middle of an otherwise factual story.

Beta Culture: Morning Thoughts

Toothpaste or teethpaste?

The fact is, if it had initially been called teethpaste, we’d be perfectly comfortable with that. If someone then suggested it should be called toothpaste, every one of us would come down on that fool. “You dumbass, it’s for TEETH – teeth, plural – not just one tooth. TOOTHpaste would be silly.”

The things you’re used to, that’s the way you think things should be.

It’s why we live the way we do, despite some bits of it being so obviously crazy. Not toothpaste, of course, but …

Overpopulation. Hunting elephants. Forcing pregnant 12-year-olds to have babies. War as a spectator sport. Fox News. Circumcision. The War on Drugs. The super-rich, world-spanning Catholic Church.

The problem with changing things like this – and I’ve missed about 12 million of them – is that most of the time there is NO RECOGNIZABLE PROBLEM. Meaning, most people can’t even see that there’s something crazy about the situation.

But if something’s really crazy-wrong, it produces REAL harmful effects, both to the people within it and the wider world beyond it. Whether you see them or not. Whether you’re comfortable with them or not.

How do you deal with a problem so big, so pervasive, so hidden, so averse to change?

You start small. Get a few people working together. Straightening the bent stuff, fixing the broke stuff, injecting sanity into the crazy stuff. Fix what you can, the things within your reach. And go on from there.

And 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 200 years from now, there are still elephants. War doesn’t exist. Fox News is out of business. Children everywhere get to be children. And the human race is still alive on Planet Earth.

That’s what I want.

Religion is Weird. That is All.

Stumbled across a new word today: Tauroctony.

Wikipedia defines it:

The tauroctony scene is the [central icon] of the Mithraic Mysteries. It depicts Mithras killing a bull, hence the name ‘tauroctony’, given to the scene in modern times, probably after the Greek word tauroktonos (ταυροκτόνος) “slaughtering bulls.”

The Mithraic Mysteries, now referred to as Mithraism, was

a mystery religion practiced in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to 4th centuries AD. The name of the Persian god Mithra, adapted into Greek as Mithras, was linked to a new and distinctive imagery. […] The mysteries were popular in the Roman military.

[…] Numerous archeological finds, including meeting places, monuments, and artifacts, have contributed to modern knowledge about Mithraism throughout the Roman Empire. The iconic scenes of Mithras show him being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull, and sharing a banquet with the god Sol (the Sun). About 420 sites have yielded materials related to the cult. Among the items found are about 1000 inscriptions, 700 examples of the bull-killing scene (tauroctony), and about 400 other monuments. […] No written narratives or theology from the religion survive, with limited information to be derived from the inscriptions, and only brief or passing references in Greek and Latin literature.

Here’s a tauroctony, a more recent recreation of older, existing paintings and sculptures:













Lemme call your attention to the creepy little dog and the snake, going after the blood gushing from the stab wound. What’s that all about?

But then notice this:


Note that this wasn’t something just thrown up there like teenagers tagging a freeway overpass with spray paint. This feature, a scorpion latched onto the testicles of the sacrificial bull, is shared by all the depictions. It was IMPORTANT, a central feature of a religion that lasted hundreds of years.

You get the feeling that if the sculptor left that out, it would be an insult to the faithful.

“No, Appius, look, you gotta have the scorpion here, pinching the bull’s balls. You want riots? I ask you: Do you want riots? Because that’s what you’ll get. I tell you, bubbie, these are simple people. They don’t understand all this modern sentiment, with no scorpion on the balls. Tell you what, kid, throw me a scorpion on there and I’ll introduce you to my sister with the big cahooties.”

Freaky, right? Because we’re outside it.

Now picture the Catholic rite of consuming the blood and body of Christ, the Jewish ritual of circumcision, the Pentecostal practice of handling poisonous snakes, the conservative Islamic practice of requiring the women to wear burkhas.

Five hundred years from now, what’s that going to look like? Right. Equally freaky.