Donors Choose Returns

I can’t say this any better than I did last year.

I really don’t want to have to do this.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Donors Choose is providing a valuable service. I want these kids to have what they need to get a rich education and discover the joy in learning in a way that old, worn out classrooms and materials will make more difficult. I want them to have things they can touch and play with and sometimes even break because there’s enough to go around. I want their educations to fit them for a modern world in a way their outdated books simply won’t. I want them to have every opportunity to succeed, for themselves and for the society they’ll be creating when they’re grown.

I just don’t want them to have to rely on charity to get it.

We should be funding education and poverty relief such that no teacher ever has to come to us and beg for our help. It isn’t just human and decent and all that, but it’s one of the smartest uses to which we can put our money. Asking most people to be smart, however, is apparently some kind of inhumane imposition. At least Donors Choose is here, and at least there are people like the readers of Freethought Blogs who understand the value of an education.

I have found a way to make me feel a little bit better about the start of this, though. Keep reading. [Read more…]

Well, I’ve Got My Rights

I find religion boring, when I don’t find it laughably bizarre or dangerously authoritarian. There’s a whole lot of nothing there, and I just can’t make myself pay attention for very long.

There. Blasphemy Day done. Check.

Except today isn’t actually Blasphemy Day. It’s Blasphemy Rights Day International, and me exercising my rights in this part of the world doesn’t do much to change the situation in the rest of the world. It doesn’t free any “blasphemers” from jail. It doesn’t stop them from being executed. It doesn’t even stop them from being legally discriminated against.

That isn’t a slam against people who participate in Blasphemy Day. Maintaining our rights is important to, and having any broader impact–or even knowing how to try–isn’t always easy. Luckily, the Center for Inquiry, which helped start the day, is on the case. [Read more…]

We Have the Technology

I’m not asking you for money. Not today, anyway. I’m asking you for your Facebook account, briefly. Temporarily. A few clicks now and maybe a few more later, depending on how you feel about Facebook apps.

So, what am I asking you to do? I’m asking you to join in the Chase Giving voting, to help bring Camp Quest and the Secular Student Alliance into a decent amount of funding from corporate sources. I’m asking you to hold your nose when the application tells you it will collect a bunch of your personal information and vote anyway. (Also, I’m reminding you that it’s a good idea to purge apps on your Facebook account from time to time anyway, and a couple of days from now, after voting ends, would be an excellent time.) Chase can already collect a buy amount of information about you directly through Facebook. With this app, they’re paying secular nonprofits for it instead.

If you’re willing to share a link to the campaign with your friends, you can qualify for a third vote. Foundation Beyond Belief is also in the running, but they’re already doing better than the other two.

For more on why to do this, see JT’s post from this morning:

Please read this post all the way through.  It’s short.

Camp Quest and the Secular Student Alliance, along with Foundation Beyond Belief, were nominated by Chase employees for the Chase Community Giving program.  Here’s the deal: Chase doles out $5 million dollars to groups that were nominated.  The organizations get a portion of that cash based on how many votes they get on facebook.

Here’s the breakdown:

$250,000 to the Charity receiving the most votes
$100,000 to the next ten runners-up Charity
$50,000 to the next thirty-five runners–up Charity
$20,000 to the next fifty runners-up Charities
$10,000 to the next one-hundred runners-up

I’d like to direct you guys back to what I said about Camp Quest recently:

I will make an additional, personal plea on behalf of Camp Quest.  They are behind the other three organizations yet, in my estimation, they are atop the pile in terms of importance.  Go vote for them.  It will take you maybe, maybe sixty seconds to click “allow app” and “vote.”  Surely if you give the first shit about this culture war you can spare sixty seconds.  You could also go the extra mile and tell your friends to vote for them.

Amanda Metskas, the Executive Director of Camp Quest, has a near-magical ability to make money go further than anybody else thought it could.  She will do wonders with the kind of money Camp Quest could win here.

And, if you’re looking to donate, trust her with your money.  You won’t regret it.

Right now Camp Quest has 1,404 votes.  That’s all.  Only 1,404 for one of the most important things the atheist movement can be doing.  I know a lot of the readers here have gone and voted, but they need more! Camp Quest only needs to gain 100 more votes on the group presently at the $20k barrier to go from $10,000 to $20,000.  That’s a lot of money, especially in the hands of Amanda Metskas.

Please, please, please, if you haven’t, go do it.  It won’t take a dime out of your day.  It might, if you’re slow, take a whole minute.  That little click is not meaningless.  In fact, it means a ton!  If you care about this movement, this is a way to make a potentially enormous impact with a minimal amount of effort.

And please, please, please share this information.  Get everyone you know to vote.  Voting ends tomorrow and they need as many votes as possible before then.  If we can’t get more than 1500 people to click “yes, I’d like Camp Quest to have 10,000 more dollars” then there’s something really wrong with atheist activism.

And, if you want to go the extra mile, toss a vote at the other atheist orgs while you’re at it.  If the Secular Student Alliance drops a couple more spots they lose $30,000.  If Camp Quest is important to you, it should be equally important to put some bucks into the hands of the organization that helps these kids when they get a little older.

To vote for Camp Quest, click here.

To vote for the Secular Student Alliance, click here.

To vote for Foundation Beyond Belief, click here.

Also Chase customers can vote twice more at

Thank you, everyone.  *hug*

This is such a simple action that can have big consequences for some of our hardest-working nonprofits. Help with a few clicks, and show them what we’ve got as a movement, won’t you?

You can also help JT’s post catch the eye of the Reddit crowd if you have an account by upvoting it here.

How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves

Sometimes you just don’t find the right words until it’s too late. This is one of those times. Damnit.

I’ve been plugging the Alexander Aan petition since the Center for Inquiry posted it. (Aan, in case you’ve missed the story, is an Indonesian atheist jailed for posting about his disbelief–on Facebook.)  I didn’t write about it because I didn’t have anything to add. “I agree. That’s bad. Go sign” has never gotten much response when I tried it. Maybe I still should have.

I just passed it around when others did a good job of explaining why the petition was needed. I signed it, as much of a pain as the White House petition system is. And I watched as it spectacularly bombed, attaining only 8,000 signatures.

Now I’m watching as people try to figure out “why” this happened.

  • “Oh, signing petitions is worthless.”
  • “Oh, the system was glitchy.”
  • “Oh, Obama wouldn’t do anything in an election year.”
  • “Oh…oh…oh.”

None of those are the reason the petition gained only 8,000 signatures. The reason it ended up with so few signatures is that next to none of us signed. Around a third of the number of people required in order to put this petition in front of the president got off their asses long enough to make this happen.

Sadly, only now do I have the words to tell you why this is such a problem. [Read more…]

Why I Love Pamela Gay

A few years ago, there were two Pamelas for me. One was a friend of friends, known by reputation through the physics education community. She was the person who made a trip to SIUE or an AAPT conference more complete by hanging out for an evening. She was both relaxing and inspiring to talk to, one of this world’s incredibly pleasant people, despite being put through a lot in her professional situation.

The other Pamela was this kick-ass astronomer and skeptic who did…well, everything. She was constantly traveling, talking, recording podcasts, getting people involved in citizen science, starting new programs, working for grants–everything. She was a little bit intimidating, though admirable, in her iron will and the energy she spent getting things done.

Then I discovered these two Pamelas were the same person. [Read more…]

Things to Do This Weekend

Me? I’m just going to sit here and cough some more, but there are a number of things you should be doing if you’re feeling better than I am.

First, if you’re in or near the Twin Cities (or don’t mind a bit of travel), sign up for the American Atheists Regional Conference in Saint Paul August 11.

Join us for an all-day Regional Atheist Conference at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in downtown St. Paul. Confirmed speakers so far are: Hector Avalos, Teresa MacBain, PZ Myers, Robert Price, Dave Silverman, Andy Thomson, and Ayanna Watson.

In addition to the conference speakers, there will be a room with books, shirts, and other merchandise. Two delicious meals are available for purchase (see below). That evening, after the end of the conference, we will have a pub crawl in downtown St. Paul.

Purchase conference and meal tickets below. Book your room reservations directly with the hotel, at the special link provided below.

Jessica Ahlquist has also been added to the lineup. There are a few tickets left at our special rate for the Saint Paul Saints game the night before, during which time they will be renamed the Mr. Paul Aints. Jerseys worn during the game will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for Minnesota Atheists after the game, and custom jerseys can be ordered by email before the game for $69.00.

While you’re thinking about the Minnesota Atheists, consider donating to keep Atheists Talk radio on the air. Those of us who work on the show donate our time, but we do pay for the airtime. On our show, we interview secular activists, atheist and humanist writers, scientists in politicized fields, and artists who inspire awe in the natural world. We offer an alternative to religious Sunday-morning radio programming. We raise the profile of atheists and atheism. And we really want to keep doing all of that, even if it does mean getting up early on weekend mornings.

Then, if you haven’t yet, sign up to walk for the Light the Night event benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Today is the last day in the push to add 5,000 walkers that will result in Todd Stiefel getting a mohawk (in addition to his matching donations up to $500,000) and PZ and Hemant getting tattoos.

Then it’s time to pick a team in this year’s battle to raise funds for Camp Quest. PZ used some dirty tricks to lose last year. JT and others have put together a team this year that may be able to do it fair and square, depending on where you decide to throw your support.

Then go do something fun outside, while I take a nap.

Committing to Marriage Equality

November is marching ever closer. We have two noxious amendments on the ballot here in Minnesota, one requiring voter ID and one denying marriage equality. I am starting to be a little more hopeful that Minnesota might be the first state to defeat an amendment that enshrines a discriminatory definition of marriage in our constitution.

First, there were the good poll results in the wake of Obama’s support for marriage equality.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) today released results from its latest survey that showed 49 percent of Minnesotans oppose amending the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, while 43 percent support it. A January PPP poll showed 44 percent opposed amending the constitution, while 48 percent supported (-5 support; +5 oppose). This represents a 10-point swing in just four months. Meanwhile, 47 percent of Minnesotans said they believe that marriage for same-sex couples should be legal.

Then there are the resolutions from rural parts of the state condemning the amendment.

Leading the way on the Iron Range, the city council of Mountain Iron became the 11th city to vote to publicly oppose the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry for committed, same-sex couples in Minnesota and the first to join the coalition comprising Minnesotans United for All Families, the official campaign to defeat the freedom-limiting amendment.

The council voted 3-to-1 to adopt the resolution, which states the proposed amendment is “contrary to the purpose of our State Constitution to protect the rights, privileges and freedom of conscience of all citizens” by excluding same-sex couples from the freedom to marry. The resolution urges Mountain Iron residents to vote no in November.

Poll numbers are good, and rural rejection of the amendment is critical, but of course that isn’t enough. People have to keep working on this if we’re going to defeat the amendment. A year or two from now? Sure, then we wouldn’t have to work so hard. That’s why the amendment is on the ballot now.

To help make sure the amended loses, Minnesotans United for All Families has adopted a new variation on their broader strategy. In addition to volunteers calling voters to tell them why it is so personally important to the volunteers that the amendment be defeated, they are asking Minnesotans who support marriage equality to take these conversations to their friends and family. And if these volunteers can talk to strangers, you can talk to your friends.

Sixty-seven percent of people with gay and lesbian friends VOTE NO if we talk to them about marriage.

This means that the single most important action you can take to defeat this hurtful amendment is to start conversations about the freedom to marry with your friends, family, and the people you see every day.

Even if you’re not gay or bisexual, you know people who are. Maybe they are your friends and colleagues. Maybe they’re too scared to tell you about their sexual orientation. Whatever the situation, you know people whose relationships this amendment would declare to be worth less than mine. As much as I think the world of mine, that’s just not right.

We need to have these conversations, now and into November. Won’t you pledge to have some of these conversations?

Let’s Talk About CISPA

Everything Facebook has done with regard to your privacy is nothing as compared to their support for this bill. So long, Facebook, until this thing is killed dead. Friends, I’ll miss you.

I just left that message on Facebook before signing off. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? That’s because Facebook stripped off the link that went to this infographic on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act. That link also identifies Facebook as one of the supporters of the bill, the only one with which I was doing any business. I’m not anymore.

Is it a coincidence that Facebook stripped my link? Maybe. I was able to post it again underneath my status. It isn’t important. What is important is that this bill, which is breathtaking in its scope, be stopped.

[Read more…]