Letter to the Editor 12.31.11

January 1, 2012
christmas 2007

Image by paparutzi via Flickr

The year 2011 is now over, and I ended the year on a good note, with a letter to the editor in my local paper. The link won’t last long but I’ll reproduce my piece here:

Regarding “Why can’t we say ‘Christmas’?” (Your Views, Dec. 25):

I suspect the two letter writers are themselves to blame for their own bitterness this holiday season with their insistence on the use of the word Christmas instead of more inclusive language.

I thought the season was about fellowship, family, goodwill toward others and appreciating what one has. Nope. Apparently, it’s just about a particular brand of spoiled, privileged Christians making sure everyone in our multicultural society is constantly reminded that despite the well-known origins of Christmas and its traditions, Christians own the season.

Apparently, what most concerns these people is that anyone would have the audacity to respect others in precisely the same manner as both letter writers demand for themselves. Though I myself follow the time-honored Jewish tradition of atheism, I never take offense to being in good faith wished a “Merry Christmas!” Would the letter writers be as gracious if sincerely wished a “Happy Kwanzaa”?

But what I do take great umbrage at is this sense of entitlement and presumption that Christianity alone holds the deed to the winter season. I consider that both a grave insult to this nation’s founding principles and a grotesque mockery of true spirit of the season.

And on that note, hope everyone had a happy holidays. See you all in 2012!

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Even the good billboards get attacked

December 5, 2010

The other day, I expressed my disapproval of the latest American Atheist billboard that went up in New Jersey near the Lincoln Tunnel. And the more responses to it I see in the letters to the editor of my local Jersey newspaper and elsewhere, the more angry it makes me.

Sure, there are dumber criticisms such as the “why didn’t they spend the $20,000 on charity” charge, which exposes a complete double standard, since any motorist in the U.S. has undoubtedly encountered at least one of the thousands of aggressive Christian billboards across the country and never seemed to mind any of that money not going to charity.

But that shouldn’t distract from the legitimate criticisms of the billboard. While I completely agree that the Jesus story is accepted by many on entirely insufficient evidence and objectively has no greater evidence than any Greek or Roman myth (a point David Silverman makes himself in this clip), that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right message to stick on a billboard. David Silverman’s attempts to defend the billboard choice are not very persuasive because, quite frankly, they’re complete bullshit…and everyone knows it (or as American Atheists would say everyone “KNOWS” it). Regardless of the fact that the Jesus as myth argument is a completely valid position and one that even gets debated by actual historians, the message of the billboard is clear. It’s not to stir atheists from the closet, as Silverman pretends it’s intended to do, but to give Christians the finger. That’s it.

Finding positive reviews of the  billboard from people not already firmly in the atheist community is as difficult as finding positive reviews of any given PETA stunt from people who aren’t already devoutly devoted to PETA. It’s an unmitigated public relations disaster for the atheist community…and it was delivered by members of our own team.

So what am I to do? Write my own letter to the editor? I can’t defend that billboard. It’d be easier to defend the Iraq War. American Atheists has $20,000 to burn on a billboard and they chose to squander that opportunity by thumbing their noses at Christianity for spite and going, “Na, na, na, na, na!”

I’m sorry but “Na, na, na, na, na!” is not worth $20,000. To be honest, that money would have been better spent as a donation to charity. That’s at least positive PR. Hell, if, like PETA or the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), the goal was simply to garner attention with a publicity stunt, that money would have been better spent literally tossing it out onto the streets of Time Square ala The Joker from the 1989 Batman film with David Silverman holding a bullhorn announcing that the money was courtesy of American Atheists.

You see, that would get attention and wouldn’t give people a reason to hate our fuckin’ guts…which is the reaction we’re now getting thanks to American Atheists. Suddenly, we’re again less popular than Al Quada.

But of course there’s another problem we face. This one.

Even when we put up a fantastic advertisement on the side of a bus that actually does say something positive like “Millions of Americans Are Good Without God”, we STILL get attacked from Christians insisting that such a benign message is offensive to them. Not only that, but you get tons of Christians, most of whom probably never rode on a bus in their lives, are organizing a boycott of buses that happen to feature the benign atheist ads.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. All I can say is that if we’re going to continue to advertise atheism, skepticism, rationalism, etc. (and I think we should), we need to do a better job of choosing our ads and our message, and I think we should strive for ads that accentuate the positive attributes of atheism and reason instead of trying to out-WBC the WBC…even if it means we’ll be criticized anyway. Our ways are not their ways and I’d rather defend against illegitimate criticisms than legitimate ones.

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Where did all the good atheist billboards go?

December 2, 2010

It seems like the atheist advertisements are getting worse and worse. I was a big fan of some of the earlier ones like the one that read, “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone.” I also liked the “Imagine no religion” one, the “good without god” ones, and the “There is probably no god. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Now the atheist ads have turned more bitter and petty as well as becoming pretty much indefensible…though sadly, that hasn’t stopped those responsible for them from trying to hopelessly defend them anyway:

I’m sorry, David, but your billboard is shit. It’s doing a disservice to the atheist community. And you look like a total asshole to Fox News viewers for defending it.

Then there’s the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who have reproduced their stupid Washington Christmas “display” from last year in Wisconsin that is essentially just giving the finger to the religious.

Now I recognize that no matter what billboard atheists put up, it’s guaranteed to piss someone off no matter how inoffensive it is but that’s no reason to put up a billboard that is legitimately out to offend people…especially at this time of year.

Like last year, numerous atheist groups have tried to play Fox News’ game by playing along with this “War on Christmas” nonsense in the most childish of ways. Now I don’t think Christmas should be a national holiday either but honestly, who the fuck cares?

There are so many bigger fish to fry and sticking your tongue out at Christmas at this time of year is not going to win friends. I say, stop being reactive or childish and let them have their Christmas.

And while the holiday season commences, we should display a positive secular humanist message to the world. One of the best examples of this that I’d seen was the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia’s “Tree of Knowledge” display, which sadly this year has been disallowed. This display said all the right things. It can hardly even be called an “atheist” display at all. It celebrated tolerance, unity, and a diversity of viewpoints. And atheism was simply included as one of those viewpoints. That’s taking advantage of the sentimental spirit so representative of the season.

An even better way to promote atheism this holiday season would be to organize atheist and secular groups to take part in charity work while wearing your atheism on your sleeve, both literally and figuratively. And an even better way would be to unite atheist groups and religious groups to perform charity work together for the common good. This last one makes for great free publicity. News media love feel-good stories about opposing groups coming together for a good cause.

My point is that Fox News wants everyone to think atheists are angry, bitter assholes like the one featured in this hilarious, less than subtle trailer for the direct-to-DVD film Christmas With A Capital C:

So why would you give them exactly what they want?

C’mon atheists. This holiday season, let’s remind Americans that being an atheist can make you a better person and not just a jerk.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 11.9.10

November 10, 2010

1. Large Hadron Collider causes mini big bang -

“The Large Hadron Collider has successfully created a “mini-Big Bang” by smashing together lead ions instead of protons.”

2. Spain’s LGBT community prepare to welcome Pope with kiss-in – Organisers are using Facebook to grow a  ‘queer kissing flashmob’ intended to congregate in front of Barcelona’s cathedral on Sunday:

“No placards, no flags, no shouting and no slogans. Only kissing allowed,” the Facebook page reads.

3. Liberty Counsel announces its 8th annual “Naughty & Nice list” – This is the Christian group that tries to discourage people from shopping at those evil stores that have the audacity to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in their advertising. Here’s the official list. I plan on shopping only at the “naughty” stores and passing on the “nice” ones.

4. Skeptics in India launch their own paranormal challenge – Inspired by the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, skeptics in India are offering 50 Lakh rupees (about $112,000) to anyone who can definitively prove under proper scientific conditions that ghosts exist.

5. American Atheists puts up their first billboard and it’s going to be in NYC – The billboard is going up near the Lincoln Tunnel on the NYC side on November 23rd and will remain there for one month. I’m not all that crazy about it as I’d rather we dropped the whole holiday season schtick and addressed something of more substance, but I don’t hate it either. Here’s what it will look like:

 

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The atheist who stole Christmas

September 19, 2010

The Christians have decided to prematurely fire the first round in “the war on Christmas” this year with a little D-movie that makes Left Behind almost look like Citizen Kane by comparison. This looks like a low budget (possibly lower than Clerks) film starring nobody actors with a plot fit for the Hallmark Channel. Hell, it seems they couldn’t even afford Stephen Baldwin, so that got Daniel Baldwin (who knew he was following in his one loser brother’s footsteps rather than the, you know, successful ones?). And it also features the dude who played Marcy’s second husband in Married With Children. And it’s going straight to DVD…right before it goes straight to the $0.99 bargain bin. But it must be awesome because in the marketing material they compare it to Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life.

But judge for yourself. Here’s the trailer for the unambiguously titled “Christmas with a Capital C”:

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Rep. Henry Brown and other Republicans’ new proposed waste of tax-payer dollars

December 29, 2009

I’ve blogged about this story before but here’s a horrible waste of tax-payer money during a recession:

Rep. Henry Brown of South Carolina and 74 Republican co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives actually wants Congress to pass a resolution condemning people for saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

Son of a bitch! This is seriously how these clowns want to spend tax-payer dollars? Really? After refusing to support spending for health care reform, a measure that would have undeniable benefits for almost every man, woman, and child in the country? These people are insane. They should be locked up in mental asylums, not running our country.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There’s no “War on Christmas.” The only “war” being waged is by Christians against anyone else who has the audacity to not celebrate Christmas. I have no beef with Christmas. It’s not even a real Christian holiday and many of its traditions are either Pagan in origin, secular in origin, and/or explicitly condemned in the Bible such as the Christmas tree in Jeremiah 10. Also, if you polled a hundred people on the street about their favorite part of the holiday, you’d be lucky to find even one who’d name Christmas mass or any other unambiguously religious element.

Sure, I’m a little unnerved by the ultra-commercialism of this time of year. And I think pressuring everyone into being generous is manifestly paradoxical and ultimately a flawed system since ideally, everyone reciprocates by giving presents to those they receive presents from and those presents are ideally of relatively equal worth, guaranteeing that people would just be better off buying their own gifts (hence gift cards and cash presents). But I enjoy many elements to the season. I love Santa Claus, the patron saint of this holiday, who’s inspired by numerous cultures’ myths as well as the Coca Cola Corporation, and as I understand it, is said to have died for our sins on a cross (That is what the holiday’s about, isn’t it?).

But it isn’t enough for these wankers that this holiday, currently most associated with one specific religion, is ALREADY regarded as a national holiday. No, that isn’t good enough for them. They need to force this down everyone’s throats and force us all to celebrate no matter what. Well I call bullshit! This is the United States of America, goddamnit! And we don’t have to celebrate or honor a goddamned thing! I’ll celebrate Burn The Flag Day if I please, and there ain’t a damned thing you can do about it because that’s my Constitutional right as a citizen of this amazing country. And if you don’t like it, you can just close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and sing, “la, la, la, la” over and over again. That’s your right. Your right to swing your fists end at my nose.

And ironically, it seems that the more atheists surprise Christians by announcing that they enjoy celebrating Christmas, the more Christians seem to be outraged and call for the exclusivity of the holiday. Just see Garrison Keillor’s rant in the Chicago Tribune, which I’ve previously mentioned in a blog. You just can’t win with people who insist on being argumentative about everything and will argue regardless of what side you’re on. So atheists might as well just continue to praise Christmas for its secular and explicitly anti-Christian components just to see if we can get more Christians to denounce the holiday.


Jenny McCarthy’s Christmas present

December 27, 2009

Guess what Santa brought your child this year?

Measles, mumps, rubella, polio, pertussis, and many more deadly diseases:

“I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

. . .

“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f___ing measles.”  -Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy Body Count

Stop Jenny

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.21.09

December 22, 2009

Silence is the Enemy campaign image

1. South African lesbians being dragged off the street and  raped – The worst part of all is that in the video found in the link above, citizens are happily admitting their support of rape in order to “correct” these women and “teach them a lesson.” The police and government are not taking this seriously.

One man roared with laughter as he said lesbians should be “whipped”. “There is no mention of lesbians in the bible,” he said.

. . .

They said “women should behave like women” and this was a way of “teaching” them that.

Why is it that whenever there is repulsive female oppression, a reference to the bible isn’t far behind?

2. The Pope (TM) – The Vatican has literally copywritten the Pope. So apparently the likeness and image of Joey Ratz is no longer in the public domain:

The statement seeks to establish and safeguard the name, image and any symbols of the Pope as being expressly for official use of the Holy See unless otherwise authorized.

. . .

Due to this demand, the Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that “it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

So I guess mentioning the fact that it’s a matter of public record that the current Pope conspired to cover-up countless instances of child rape, allowing the rapists to continue to rape and escape prosecution to this very day is a big no-no.

3. Garrison Keillor’s anti-semitic rant – Ironically, he accuses those non-Christians who embrace Christmas of “spiritual piracy and cultural elitism,” apparently oblivious to the holiday’s pagan origins and, you know, the fact that this very rant promotes “cultural elitism.” This just further hits home the point that there’s no such thing as a “War on Christmas,” only a war by fanatical Christians against everyone else’s cultural or religious traditions in order to reinforce their own religious dominance. And the guy seems really, really worked up over this. Dude, there are REAL problems in the world. Non-Christians enjoying the season isn’t a problem; it can hardly even be described as a pet peeve. But I’m not a heartless guy, so I’ll just wish Mr. Keillor a Happy Atheistmas!

4. Mexico City legalizes same-sex marriage – And apparently Uruguay already has legalized civil unions throughout the country, along with several South America nations. Who knew?

5. Clive Thompson of the Washington Post calls anti-vaccination one of the “Worst Ideas of the Decade” – Thompson hits it out of the park, but of course he’s just become the newest target of vitriolic attacks by the anti-vaccine movement. In fact, it’s already started. And by tomorrow, I’m sure Age of Autism will have found some reason to insist he’s a Big Pharma Shill, such as him once living next door to someone who knows someone who works at Merck. And on a related note, the anti-vacine Australian Vaccination Network (or AVN – not to be confused with any other AVN that may hold annual conventions in Las Vegas) and its leader Meryl Dorey are under investigation for misleading the public.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.13.09

December 13, 2009

1. Ray Comfort caught plagiarizing Origin of Species intro – I was reluctant to even bother reporting this story because it was about as irrelevant as that unauthorized use of Imagine in Expelled. I mean there are just so many better things to focus our criticisms on than the fact that the only part Comfort actually contributed his own original content too was not even original. But once PZ Myers decided to report it, I figured I might as well too. It turns out that Comfort stole the first three pages from an essay by University of Tennessee professor Stan Guffey. Also note that those were only part of the Comfort introduction that wasn’t idiotic, tired, and long-refuted creationist nonsense. Guffey is considering legal action.

2. Study finds monkeys have syntax -

A study carried out in Ivory Coast has shown that monkeys of a certain forest-dwelling species called Campbell’s monkeys emit six types of alert calls. The primates combine these calls into long vocal sequences which allow them to convey messages about social cohesion or various dangers, including predation.

3. Christopher Hitchens tells the real story of Christmas

4.  Engineered Bacteria Turn CO2 Into Fuel -

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

5. French justice minister tells Muslim men who force their wives to wear burqas that they’re not welcome in France – That is freakin’ awesome. Why can’t we have people like this running our country. Thatwoman, Michele Alliot-Marie, deserves some kind of metal.

‘The wearing of the niqab or burkha is a problem that affects our ability to live together, the values of the republic and in particular human dignity.

‘For instance, someone who would be seeking French citizenship and whose wife wears the full veil is someone who would not appear to be sharing the values of our country.

‘Therefore in a case like that one, we would reject his request.’

You oppress women and you’re not welcome in our country. Sounds like the height of rationality to me.

6. Atheists save the world against the virus of religion in Marvel comic books -

In an issue of The List: Wolverine, the heroes Fantomex (a genetically engineered supersoldier) and Captain Marvel are faced with an army of zombie-like creatures, people who have been infected with an evil virus that can only take over your mind if you believe in some sort of god. So they swing into action, safe from the infection, because neither one believes in gods.


Atheist bus ads hitting Seattle means ‘War on Christmas’ season has begun

November 4, 2009

There is no real “War on Christmas.” Like the holiday itself, this was just a made-up marketing ploy. In this case, it was one invented by Fox “News” for ratings and fear-mongering. The idea was to find any case they could find where public institutions were choosing or being politically pressured to promote multiculturalism instead of promoting the establishment of any particular religion (you know, like it says in the Constitution), and then claim that it’s all just an elaborate conspiracy by the liberal devils to organizae in an elaborate plot to steal Christmas.

But since then, atheists and other secularists have chosen to have some fun with it. And that seems to be what the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had in mind with their latest ads that will be going up on 100 buses in Seattle:

I have to say that like numerous other ads brought to us by the FFRF, I’m not a big fan of this one. While I’m all for aggressive challenging of religion, I don’t think public ads are the place for it, especially not during the holiday season. I prefer the ads that say things like “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone”, “Beware of Dogma”, “Imagine No Religion”, and “A million New Yorkers are good without God.” And during the holidays, I particularly encourage a more inclusive message such as the Tree of Knowledge display from the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, where the covers to numerous religious, philosophy, and atheist texts were hung on a large tree. Once again, this one just seems in poor taste and fairly impossible to defend, especially at this time of year.


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