Tablet/Laptop

So, I’ve gotten an Asus eee tab transformer, which is a lot of words that essentially mean a tablet and laptop in one.  It’s pretty boss.  I mean, I’ve only had it for about an hour, so I’m sure there are some things I’m going to grow to hate.  The fact that it functions a lot more like a droid than a computer, and the fact that it uses Facebook’s absolutely crap mobile page are going to bug me, and the fact that I keep moving the cursor when I’m just trying to type are probably going to get to me.

But it is much much faster than using my phone to type, and hopefully this means that at future conventions I will be able to update my blog and so forth from the hotel.

Ooh, you can turn off the track pad.  Sweet deal. It’s more intuitive to just touch the screen anyway.  SCORE!  Now if Facebook would stop being that crappy mobile thing…

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 2

Day one here

Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, right after I’d gotten to sleep, there was some sort of major commotion on the 8th floor of the Hyatt, very near to my room.  I’m not sure what it was, but I was told hotel security was called and I definitely heard a man who’d been woken up scream, “Shut the Fuck Up!”  I would have applauded, but I wasn’t so much for moving.

So, I was very tired when 7:30AM came around.  And then breakfast was disappointing.  How hard is it to have toast or oatmeal or something other than a very sketchy bready fruity thing?  Everything was cooked fruit.  How gross.  (Note: I’m far too picky for people to take my food opinions seriously.)

We, the godless horde, strode over to the Capitol to meet with some staffers.  Herb, Sharon and I first met with Tara O’Neill, who is a Legislative Aide (or LA in Hill Parlance) for Tim Scott.  Tara, a Clemson grad, was very nice and polite and listened to all we had to say about HR 1179 2011 (patient rights) and Humanist Military Chaplains.  But I’d like to give you some background on Tim Scott, so that you can understand exactly the lion’s den we three atheists were stepping into.

Godless Horde

Tim Scott is one of the mythological Black Republicans, and he’s Southern, so he’s about as common as a unicorn.  When he was on City Council he erected the 10 Commandments in the Council Office and the AU and ACLU proceeded to sue him to take them down.  He campaigned on bringing Christian Values to Washington, and was endorsed by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.  He opposes gay marriage, and probably doesn’t believe in atheists in foxholes.

HR 1135 2011

He took $117,000 in campaign ads from an anti-union group and then proceeded to sponsor legislation that would deny FOOD STAMPS to anyone who had a family member on strike.  HR 1135 2011.  It’s very clever, Sheriff of Nottingham level villainy going on.  “I want this brigand found. Starve them out, slaughter their… No, take their live stock. I want Locksley’s own people fighting to bring his head in.”

But enough about the life and legislation of Tim Scott, the staff was very nice — Tara and the UCSD student who greeted us and the gentleman in charge, who understood immediately what the SCA was doing.  We were done there by 9:30 and then headed over to meet with Lindsey Graham’s staffer Jason Brown, who is now my favorite person in DC.  On the way we walked past an armed guard who had an AK-47 — it didn’t look real, they should really make them look less like toys.

Our appointment wasn’t until 11, so we went down into the cool/creepy tunnels that run under the capitol, and went to a little coffee shop below ground.  Then we went back up to meet with Jason Brown.  The Senate offices are much, much nicer than the House offices.  Graham’s office was decorated with a bunch of pictures and paintings of and by South Carolinians.

I love this picture

Jason Brown is a lawyer working as a Legislative Aide for Lindsey Graham and he took us to a relatively swank conference room and we talked primarily about the issue of Humanist Military Chaplains.  He asked us some questions that implied an interest and definite understanding of why it was important to us.  That was reassuring.  Graham is an interesting character in terms of willingness to not toe the Republican Party Line at all times, and as someone on the Committee on Armed Services, he’s a good person to have on your side in this issue.

After that meeting, I went to Union Station, which is apparently just a large mall without a candy store, and met some others for lunch at Pizzeria Uno.  At 2, the panel discussion were set to begin.  Fred Edwords, who shall be Fredwords henceforth, the head of COR was the first to arrive.  He is working with some people in Columbia to get some buildboards here as well as some media training for locals, so it was nice to see a face I’ve seen a lot of e-mails from of late.

The panel was filled out by David Silverman (American Atheists), Jesse Galef (SSA), and Sally Quinn (editor of On Faith, Washington Post).  They spent some time talking about the rapture, which was supposed to happen Saturday, and how good it has been for the cause of Atheism.  David Silverman had been on CNN several times, and Herb Silverman was fielding media phone calls all day.

Sally Quinn then spoke for a while, and she was interesting, though I’m not sure I agree with her or where she’s coming from — it could be a generational thing.  She had some good zingers though.

You all look like you’re going to hell to me.  Tomorrow.

The world is not going to end tomorrow, keep on flossing.

Not one person in this room will be elected president of the United States.  There will be a woman, gay, and muslim president before there is an atheist president.

Effective media strategy is based on knowing more about faith than the other guy.  This is what makes Hitchens so good, he makes them just give up.  PEW says atheists are more knowledgeable about religion than the faithful.

Now, I have a little bit of a problem with the defeatist attitude towards the possibility of an atheist president.  There are, of course, quite a few who argue that we currently have one.  But an openly atheist president within my lifetime doesn’t seem like an impossibility to me.  Maybe I’ll run in however many years til I’m 35.

Then they got into a discussion of when anger was appropriate, and the consensus was it was good when other people also got angry, like when children died of neglect because their family refused medical care because of their religious beliefs.  Atheists should try to get in the news for doing community service and nice things, to help dispel the myth that Atheists are immoral or unfeeling.  Fredwords echoed things I’ve heard PZ say, which is that you need the firebrands to get attention and the nice people to negotiate change.

And then this is where Sally Quinn really went off the rails for me (and Jennifer Michael Hecht), when she started talking about what the stereotypical view of an atheist is.  Apparently Quinn thinks that the image people have in mind when they hear “atheist” is Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was fat, ugly, crazy and had a mustache and that what atheism really lacks is an ATTRACTIVE public representative.  Now, I don’t think that our current representatives like Dawkins, Faircloth, Harris, and Hitch are unattractive, I’d be more likely to put them in the generally attractive categories, so I’m just not sure if she means there are no attractive female public personalities or that no one has overcome the O’Hair legacy.

I dunno, she looks pretty hot to me...

The first doesn’t resonate with me because I’ve seen plenty of attractive women at atheist events.  The second doesn’t resonate with me because neither I nor Omar knew what O’Hair looked like.  So maybe this is an old-people-who-think-atheism-is-communism-because-they’re-old-and-stupid problem, because no one I know, and we’re people who are like into atheism so we know stuff about atheism, has any idea why anyone would care about O’Hair.  Everything I knew about her before Quinn’s comment is that she was killed before I was old enough to know anything and she was also an atheist.

Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re going to change the hearts and minds of Glenn Beck’s 70 year old audience, we just have to let them die.  Does anyone under the age of forty think that all atheist ladies have mustaches?  If so, I would like to disabuse you of this notion.  Many of us also have horns.

Then there was a lot more discussion about tone and tactics, which basically covered all the same ground over and over again, with various protests of various sorts from the panelist and audience members.  The most interesting discussion was about whether to participate in interfaith groups, which were exclusive of atheists by name and nature.

Legal Panel

The next panel was a team of legal experts, David Niose, Amanda Knief, and Mark Dunn.  Their discussion really reflected the rest of the thrust of the meeting in that it was calling for more personal stories rather than more theoretical problems.  To this end, they wanted to bring cases based on civil rights and equal protection, not on the Establishment Clause.

What it boils down to is this: when we make Tim Scott take down the 10 Commandments, we are absolutely right, but it makes us seem like assholes, but when we call someone out for violating civil liberties, like firing someone for being an atheist or refusing to allow them to form school groups or parents are denied custody because they aren’t religious, we seem like people who are just fighting to be treated equally.  And we get to tell personal stories of how the religious bias has hurt us, and people respond more to that.

And then we got a two-hour break, which I filled with caffeine, and then it was time for the reception/dinner that evening.

Paul Provenza opened with a comedic talk which was very similar to his talk at TAM.  He did have a good line, “Today we lobbied, or as I like to call it, fucked shit up.”  After dinner, JMH introduced Sean Faircloth, and she reiterated the broad theme (poetic atheism) of needing to tell human stories, we may be rational, but people need emotional connection.

Executive Director Sean Faircloth

And then Sean Faircloth spoke, and it was very State of the Union.  Lots of clapping, lots of broad, hear-hear sort of statements.  Spontaneous standing O at the end.  He thinks that Secular Americans are the next moral majority, a sleeping giant waiting to be motivated.  Then he gave a list of ten goals:

  1. Our military will serve all Americans, with no fundamentalism or religious bias or conversion
  2. Any federal/state funded program will be based on science, not belief
  3. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to their medical duties over their religious beliefs
  4. The legislature will represent the non religious
  5. There will be one consistent health standard for children, no religious exception
  6. Medical and scientific progress shall not be impeded by religious bias ever
  7. Discrimination based on religion will not happen
  8. Marriage can be defined by an individual religion however it wants, but the government cannot use religion for its definition
  9. Government zoning laws will respect all faiths and non-faiths equally
  10. Youth won’t be subjected to religious bias in schools.

Then, we were kicked out of the room because it was 9 and that was as late as they’d booked it.  I proceeded to join JMH and her husband and a few others at the bar, where she ordered a margarita, but couldn’t remember the word for salt.  This was immensely amusing.  Then there was a party in a room, and we went there.  There were all sorts of illicit activities going on (clothes all remained on) and I shan’t be more specific, but it was really fun.
JMH then did a poetry reading for the party, which was quite entertaining.  Because her poems are good, people were drinking, and it was so weird that someone would read poetry at a party in the first place.  I felt like a Beatnik, but cleaner.

PARTY!

And then, 2000 words later, I went to bed.

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 1

What a crazy weekend that was.  So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday?  Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy!  In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.

I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible.  My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun.  So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights!  Huzzah!

I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived.  In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event.  Because they were also awesome.

Sean Faircloth

Sean Faircloth

The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns.  I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:

  • Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
  • Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
  • Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%

We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying.  Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.

The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it.  The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.

The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain?  Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem.  Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap.  There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.

HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights.  Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist.  This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs.  A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.

I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine.  But what do I know?

Me at SCOTUS

Equal Justice Under Law

Sorry, shaking it off.  I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t.  Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court.  And then it was time for dinner.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner.  She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes.  I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:

When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)

If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?

We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote.  They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth.  The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man.  This is why we need free mandatory secular education!

Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks.  Nothing is as weird as love.

jmh

A real actual photo of JMH and a Margarita (w/salt)

George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.

Hrab

A real actual photo of George Hrab

George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome.  This is undeniable.

randi

A real actual photo of James Randi

My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.

Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.

OH SNAP!  Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.

After Hrab, Sean led trivia.  I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win.  Which I did quite handily, thank you very much.  With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”.  We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.

After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan.  There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it.  It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast.  He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs.  There was an origami velociraptor involved.

georgehrab

Where the hell were you people?

75 Books 26-30: Ehrman, Hitchens, Taibbi, Logue and Conradi

26. The Lost Gospel of Judas – Bart Ehrman

This book is very similar to most of Ehrman’s other books, but it focuses a bit on the Gospel of Judas.  It’s an interesting subject, if only because seriously, Judas had to do what he did for Jesus to save humanity, so why is it that he isn’t praised rather than condemned?  I didn’t love the book, but it was pretty good.  B

27. Forged – Bart Ehrman

I loved this book, it felt more focused than some of his other work.  I cannot over recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the Bible. A

28. Monarchy – Christopher Hitchens

This barely qualifies as a book, but I’m counting it because it took me over a month to get my hands on it.  I had to have it shipped from an out-of-state library.  It wasn’t that great, if only because anti-monarchy arguments are fairly, you know, obvious.  It was interesting to see how Hitch wrote 20 years ago, though. B-

29. Griftopia – Matt Taibbi

Read this.  Right now.  Not even kidding.  The most fascinating read about the financial crisis and melt down and who is to blame for it.  I learned a lot about Alan Greenspan who I now despise.  Also, he makes fun of Ayn Rand, which really always makes me happy.  I feel obligated to find and read a lot more Taibbi. A+

We live in an economy that is immensely complex and we are completely at the mercy of the small group of people who understand it — who incidentally often happen to be the same people who built these wildly complex economic systems. We have to trust these people to do the right thing, but we can’t, because, well, they’re scum. Which is kind of a big problem, when you think about it.

30. The King’s Speech – Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

Pretty good, interesting to see the actual history and how it got changed and consolidated for the film.  Very very good.

Interview with “Supernumerary” Producer Alexandra Creswick

Supernumerary, a film that showed recently at the Newport Beach Festival and garnered a great review on TFD News, is a 26 minute long short that was produced by an old friend of mine from High School, Alexandra Creswick.  Though I call her Alex, but IMDB tells me it’s Alexandra…

1. A brief description of the film itself?

“Supernumerary” tells the story of Sally Nuart, a projectionist that locked herself in a film booth for four years after the loss of her father and completely immersed herself in cinema.  One day, an ‘extra’ in the film comes to life and they begin an unlikely romance.

2. Who is the creative team behind it? Do you have “day jobs”?  How did you get together initially?

This film is a production of the Wake Forest University Mafia, LA chapter.  Just kidding…kinda.  The director, cinematographer, and two producers are all WFU grads, and most of us met through some sort of Wake connection.

JS Mayank and I took a screen writing class together at Wake when I was an undergrad and he was getting his first master’s.  (We all assumed he was the TA and it wasn’t until a year or so ago that he told me he was a student.)  He’s a full-time screenwriter and an adjunct professor of screen writing at Western State College of Colorado.

George Reasner, the DP, is also a WFU grad and we met through one of our favorite professors.  He’s a professional cinematographer.

Alex Saks, the other producer, we met through the same professor; she also started the Reynolda Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, where we screened a rough cut of the film.  She was working with a company called MPower films at the time.

3. How did you find the rest of the team: actors, cinematographer, editor?

We had a casting director, Luis Selgas, who helped us find our very talented actors. In casting, we saw over 200 actors, and narrowed it down to Mckenzie Cowan for the role of Sally, Chris Fore to play the Supernumerary, and Jeff Coopwood for Frankfurt.

The chemistry between the two leads was instant.   What appealed to us most about their look, in that they both seemed as if they were from a different era, i.e. they could have very well been in any one of those classic movies…

The director found our editor, Mark Sult, through a mutual friend of his. Once they looked over the footage together, both realized that they had similar visions for the film.   They both understood the importance of paying homage to their shared love for cinema, yet keeping the story personal and intimate.

4. How intense was post-production?

Very intense.  Probably more intense than the actual shooting of the film, which was more exhausting than anything.   The process was long and very precise.

The visual effects which were done by the extraordinary team at Crash+Sues, were the most time-consuming. That took almost six months, since integrating our actor into the pre-existing movies is painstaking work, and making it seemless was pivotal to the story. They were marvelous, and did an amazing job.

Additionally, we had to work very closely with our lawyer, Michael Donaldson.  All of the existing footage (from 28 films) is considered Fair Use, and we had to pass very stringent criteria to make sure we were within the bounds of the law.  But Michael and his colleagues were endlessly enthusiastic about our film, and supportive through every step of the way.

There were a couple of instances where we wanted to use bits of soundtracks to movies to introduce the clips, but we couldn’t because of copyright issues.  But our composer, Antonio Lepore, stepped in and found ways to marry our original score, the original songs, and the films we pay homage to.   If you listen to the original music, you can hear themes that are echoed in the music of the clips that follow, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that makes to the feeling of unity we managed to achieve.

5. When was it made, what was the budget, how long did it take to get out to festivals?
6. What festivals have you tried for?  Do you have a festival plan?

I took two years from conception to final cut and print.  We completed all the sound mixing and corrections in late 2010 and started submitting to festivals for the 2011 circuit.

We tried to pick festivals that our film would appeal to.  Each festival has it’s own brand and personality, and we tried to remain conscious of that because we wanted to find the best places to showcase our work. The film is 26 minutes long, which makes it hard to program for festivals that are trying to pack as many shorts as they can into one program.  So we knew going in that that would be a challenge, but we made the film we wanted.  We did a lot of research as we narrowed down the field.

7. What is the background to the term “supernumerary”?

“Supernumerary” is an old-fashioned way of saying an extra or background actor.  It’s primarily used in operas these days; I’ve actually heard it in use a few times in the past couple of years and every time I do I perk up.

8. Future producing plans?  Anything else you’ve produced that we’ll be seeing?  Anything you want to pimp here…

The writer/director, JS Mayank, is trying to use the momentum of Supernumerary to try and make his feature directorial debut – “THE DEAD WIVES CLUB”, a quaint ensemble British comedy.  He’s also had several screenplays optioned and is working on them.

I work for an executive producer who specialize in independent, foreign-financed films, and we have several projects we’re working on at the moment.

Obama Wins Reelection!

Not really, but basically.  He’s killed Osama Bin Laden, and I’ve got to tell you, this is almost as big as 9/11 or JFK.  If this was mid-afternoon, I think we’d all be cheering and popping champagne and making out.  All the politically and religiously and nationally different people on my Facebook page are celebrating.

And it took less than 10 years!  Today is the 8 year anniversary of the infamous Mission Accomplished speech.  Time to start a new chapter?  Great way of supporting the withdrawal of troops?  No more War on Terror?

Osama v Obama, there can be only one.  Where are the Fireworks?

Now get on TV already Obama, I’m tired.