Reason Rally 2012

March 27, 2012

Me with PZ Myers

This weekend, I attended the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. This was the largest gathering of atheists and rationalists in history.

Now there’s a lot of debate about how many were actually in attendance, with reported numbers ranging between 5,000 and 30,000. Now I can say with strong confidence that it was a lot more than 5,000. And allegedly, official park figures suggest it was around 30,000, while others are simply asserting their own numbers based on their own personal guesswork.

Me with AronRa

In any case, it was a wonderful event. I got to meet numerous people I admire while sending Washington a message that they can no longer afford to ignore us. Throughout the day, American Atheists President Dave Silverman spoke to the crowd. And while I’ve often been critical of Silverman in the past, he was fantastic on the day. Other great and memorable speakers included Adam Savage of the Mythbusters, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jilette, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Kilstein, former Westboro Baptist Church member Nate Phelps, Youtube atheist Cristina Rad, and many more. Other YouTubers in attendance were Thunderf00t, AronRa, Ashley Paramore, and ProfMTH. The audience was also treated to musical performances by Tim Minchin and Bad Religion.

Of course, with the single largest gathering of atheists, it was inevitable that religionists would crash the party. Though to be fair, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was actually invited by the National Atheist Party, a controversial move that wholeheartedly support. The WBC are a joke and are also hated by, well, everyone. Goading them into attending not only increases media attention but also almost guarantees the press will be positive towards us as it’s hard to look like the bad guys when placed next to the funeral-picketing, hate-mongers of the WBC. While repulsive, I’ve often said that the WBC are not only one of the least violent religions in the world as well as that they practically do our job of showing the problems of religiosity for us by simply continuing their usual antics.

I personally find the WBC so non-threatening that I actually wanted to have my picture taken with them. Unfortunately, however, they kept their distance, possibly to keep their kids from hearing Nate Phelps, the prodigal son of the Phelps clan. I never even saw them. I did, however, get to interact with other evangelical groups such as those representing a ministry calling itself “True Reason.” I had a semi-lengthy discussion with one young member of that ministry and tried to teach him a little about moral philosophy. I also managed to get my hands on a DVD copy of Ray Comfort’s insipid 180 Degrees video which he markets as his never-fail secret to convincing pro-choicers to oppose abortion in about a minute. The movie is available for free online and Comfort’s amazing tactic is not very persuasive…at all. In fact, I’m so confident his video is not persuasive and does nothing but demonstrate what a clown religious nuts like Comfort are that I’d happily become a distributor of the DVD myself.

All in all, it was a fun event and hopefully the start of a growing political movement by rationalists.

I just can’t help but think what a shame it is that Christopher Hitchens didn’t live to see the Reason Rally because the central message of the event seemed to remind me of a Hitchens quote:

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.”

Surprisingly, despite all the constant in-fighting among skeptics concerning confrontational methods, the Reason Rally seemed to unambiguously support confrontationalism. And I can’t seem to find anyone in the movement criticizing the rally for being undeniably a call to arms for skeptics to get involved in efforts that will help push our message into the mainstream. Hemant Mehta called for attendees to run for public office while the attention given to young Jessica Ahlquist suggested fighting to maintain church-state separation through litigation.

Further, many of the speakers promoted humanist values through governmental policy with few even acknowledging libertarianism. The only mention of libertarian methods I caught was a quick remark in possibly my favorite speech of the day by Adam Savage:

Savage’s speech perhaps best summarized that key message of the Reason Rally:  we cannot no longer afford to stay on the sidelines and be mere spectator of injustice and misinformation. We must unite and fight back against the bullies of untruth who exploit the ignorance of others and cause great suffering in the world.

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Christopher Hitchens accepts the Richard Dawkins Award

October 10, 2011

Unfortunately, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t seem to be getting better. This is the first time I’ve seen him in months and it looks like his cancer is taking its toll and that he probably doesn’t have much time left.

But the good news is that he’s while he’s alive, he’s not letting cancer stop him from firing up rationalists everywhere so they will continue to fight long after he’s gone. Even in the end, Hitchens is an extraordinary speaker:

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Elevatorgate and Rebecca Watson haters

September 29, 2011
Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

I’m pretty sure that I managed to completely ignore the so-called “Elevatorgate” controversy that’s been brewing for months until now. I still don’t know why it’s called Elevatorgate, given that whichever hotel the inciting incident occurred in, it definitely was not named The Elevatorgate Hotel. (Ya see, folks, the Watergate Conspiracy was only called that because the hotel was called Watergate, not because the suffix “gate” means conspiracy or controversy).

Anywho, I’ve tried to avoid the topic because it seemed to be a complete distraction from the core mission of skeptics and rationalists that only served to divide us. But with the recent posts by Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers, I’ve decided to briefly break my silence.

First, let be begin by saying that this shit’s got to end already.

Second, as demonstrated by Rebecca’s post above as well as various websites I’ve seen, some people in our community who didn’t like what Rebecca had to say have fucking lost their minds and have gone so far over the line that they can’t even see the line anymore. Some of the behavior I’ve seen is disgraceful and all the more disturbing given that it’s coming from inside the skeptical community.

Third, not to be one-sided, I’ve also seen some people completely overreact to Richard Dawkins’ rather idiotic  response to Rebecca by basically writing him off entirely as some kind of misogynist. That, I think, is also unreasonable.

Now it might be that both Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins made some mistakes. Though I think Dawkins’ mistakes are far worse than any Rebecca may have made. I also think Dawkins made another mistake by remaining silent on the issue. If it were me who had said something that stupid and I saw the enormous controversy that it sparked, I’d feel obligated to open the doors to communication and try to turn this ugly incident into a teaching moment. I’d also apologize. I don’t know what motivated Dawkins’ response, whether he was just having a bad week and vented his frustrations on the wrong person or if he didn’t fully understand the nature of what Rebecca was saying. But whatever it was, it’s certainly beneath him. And while he has remained silent, the wound has only festered and diminished his reputation among many people.

It seems to me that Dawkins breaking his silence to have a civil conversation with Rebecca, explaining his behavior would be the best thing for everyone since some people feel they needed to pick sides. The anti-Dawkins crowd could start to forgive him and the vitriolic anti-Rebecca crowd might feel less of a need to defend Dawkins’ honor or whatever.

Dawkins screwed up, plain and simple. But he’s not a misogynist and he’s still a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism. Likewise, Rebecca Watson may not have effectively conveyed her message earlier on, causing some to think she was saying something far more unreasonable than she really was, but she too is a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism.

So let’s cut the crap and get back to what unites us rather than waste our time on petty feuds and unproductive internet drama.

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Richard Dawkins corrects a creationist

June 5, 2011

News From Around The Blogosphere 5.11.11

May 11, 2011

1. Indians pissed that Hindu goddess appears on skimpy swimsuit – And while I do enjoy me a good blasphemy story, the only real reason I’m posting this is for an excuse to post the pictures of the sexy model in the swimsuit. Now I know what their gods need with all those hands.

2. T-Minus ten shopping days till the Rapture! – Richard Dawkins has perhaps given the best public response in the news media yet to the completely idiotic Harold Camping prediction that the Rapture will occur on May 21, chastising the Washington Post within its own pages for even having the audacity to report on it as if it were real news. And perhaps on a related note, May is Zombie Awareness Month!

3. Simpsons’ actress Nancy Cartwright brings Scientology program to Springfield schools – Cartwright is the voice of Bart Simpson. She’s also a crazy as fuck Scientologist who’s now pushing a learning program based on the unsupported ideas of non-educator L. Ron Hubbard on the students of Springfield, Illinois.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.26.11

April 27, 2011

1. God is dead – Okay, not really because there is not such entity. But Sri Satya Sai Baba, a man who millions worship like a god because he fools them into believing he can perform miracles with simple parlor tricks is dead. I must say that if not for Sam Harris, I might not have even been familiar with this shamless con artist. Good fuckin’ riddance. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual.

2. Scientists anoint new fly queen – If your as sick of hearing about that bloody royal wedding in limey-land as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this news item:

Masaki Kamakura, a biotechnology researcher in Japan, has identified the protein in royal jelly that turns female worker bees into queen bees, which are larger in size, more fertile, and live longer. So, like anyone else would do upon making this discovery, he tried to turn a regular fly into a queen fly. And it totally worked. It’s a huge discovery in the study of insects:

I guess that makes it the lord of the flies. Now if only we can figure out how to turn Anne Hathoway into the Queen of England. Don’t just sit there. Get on it, scientists!

3.  Measles outbreak linked to one unvaccinated person

Nine cases in the state have been linked to exposure to one unvaccinated person who contracted the disease in Poland, according to the Salt Lake Valley health department. Epidemiologists have determined that the person exposed as many as 1,000 people this month.

Measles are so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of those near that individual will become infected if they are not immune.

There’s also  a major measles outbreak in Europe:

The World Health Organization said Thursday that France had 4,937 reported cases of measles between January and March – compared with 5,090 cases during all of 2010. In all, more than 6,500 cases have been reported in 33 European nations.

Another wonderful vision of a what the world will look like if ruled by anti-vaccine nuts.

4. “New” Atheist open letter strikes a nerve – The other day, Dr. Jerry Coyne wrote an open letter to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), criticizing them for going out of their way to criticize more confrontational atheists. This led a number of such prominent atheists to responding in favor of Coyne’s position such as PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. And now Roger Stanyard of the BCSE is firing back with a complete straw man position that just demonstrate how irrational the critics of confrontational atheists are when it comes to this one issue. His claim is that we want these organizations to embrace atheism when I don’t know anyone making that claim. I, like Myers and Dawkins, just want to see these organizations to leave religion out of the discussion entirely and remain entirely neutral on the subject. That’s all.

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Richard Dawkins Foundation charity victim of alleged embezzlement

October 23, 2010
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Image via Wikipedia

In 2006, Richard Dawkins hired Josh Timonen to run the website for his organization, the Richard Dawkins Foundation and produce videos for him. And since 2007, Timonen has been doing that.

However, over three years, Timonen reported the website’s online store, the proceeds of which were to go to the foundation, only made $30,000 and “was just squeaking by.” But upon further inspection, Dawkins reported that in actuality, the online store made $375,000 while Timonen made off with 92% of the proceeds.

How does Timonen explain this discrepancy?

According to Timonen’s own records, Dawkins and the Foundation paid Timonen a total of $278,750 in 3½ years – an amount Dawkins calls “exceedingly generous and well above-market for someone of Timonen’s age and experience, particularly for someone providing the bulk of his efforts to a charitable organization.”
Dawkins says Timonen was “24 or 25 years old” when he hired him.

Dawkins says he found out about the scam this year, when the Foundation decided to wrest control of the store from Timonen.
Timonen handed over financial books that detailed his embezzlement, Dawkins says, including $500 meals, trips to Timberline Lodge in Oregon and the Malibu Beach Inn, and $314,000 in “salaries” paid to Timonen and his girlfriend -though Timonen and the Foundation agreed that the $278,000 it was aware of paying him would be his combined salary for running the store and performing his other duties.
Timonen’s “significantly older” girlfriend, defendant Maureen Norton, allegedly used at least $100,000 of the charity’s money to upgrade her Sherman Oaks home before she put it on the market.
A recent real estate listing describes improvements such as a “custom backyard pool and spa area with a wonderful waterfall and glass block fire pit plus custom seating for the ultimate outdoor living and entertaining experience,” according to the complaint.

When Dawkins discovered the embezzlement, he says, Timonen suddenly claimed he owned the intellectual rights to the store’s website, the Foundation logo and the DVDs that he sold through the store.
But Dawkins says anything Timonen created for the Foundation was “a work for hire, commissioned and paid for by plaintiffs.” Dawkins says he and the Foundation own the rights to everything Timonen created for them.

Wow. This kid’s got some balls.

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