State-Encouraged Church Attendance

I saw this over at the ever-brilliant, ever-sarcastic Cafe Witteveen:

It’s official. Even police know what people like me have been saying for years … church is equal to punishment.

If you break the law in Bay Minette, Alabama, you can either serve time in prison or in church … your choice.

I never expected anyone to validate that church is punishment. I hope they seat these prisoners away from any bibles. I wouldn’t want them getting any ideas about God-approved baby killing or raping the women in the pews around them if they read it.

Just sayin’.

Okay…so Cafe Witteveen is using sarcasm and humor to address the situation. I’m more feeling this right now:

From WKRG.com News:

Operation Restore Our Community or “ROC”…begins next week. The city judge will either let  misdemenor offenders work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine or go to church every Sunday for a year.

If offenders elect church, they’re allowed to pick the place of worship, but must check in weekly with the pastor and the police department. If the one-year church attendance program is completed successfully, the offender’s case will be dismissed.

Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says it costs his department about 75 bucks per inmate per day. Rowland says the ROC program will be cost-effective and could change the lives of many people heading down the wrong path.

So far, 56 churches in North Baldwin County are participating in ROC.

Rowland says the program is legal and doesn’t violate separation of church and state issues because it allows the offender to choose church or jail…and the church of their choice.

Let’s take this apart. Just a little. Just a slightly harder look at some of the implications and assumptions being made here.

Offenders have a choice.

Let’s see… you can either go to jail and pay a fine, or continue about your daily routine and devote an hour or two per every 168-hour week to going to church. How is this a reasonable choice? If the offender has a family to support, or a job, or is in school, or has no money to pay fines, or don’t want a permanent criminal record, there is no choice here. In the video above Chief Rowland says that if he would have to choose between going to jail and paying a hefty fine or just going to church he’d certainly select church. Really? I’m shocked!

This isn’t a violation of church and state.

I don’t know if this would legally be considered a church-state violation, but it seems to me to be walking a fine line. A judge is telling offenders that their only options are go to jail and have a permanent criminal record or go to church and have your case dismissed. Go do something that is really, really painful for a variety of reasons or go to church. The judge is determining that what these criminals need is religion to straighten out their lives. There are no secular options – no community service, no counseling programs – for citizens who do not believe in God.

But don’t worry, there are a lot of options for different churches in Bay Minette and the surrounding area – 109 of them. You’ve got yer Baptist, yer Catholic, yer Methodist, yer Assembly of God, yer Presbyterian, yer Episcopal, a few of them Lutherans, and about a gazillion different house of worship with the phrase “of Christ” in the name somewhere. Why they even have themselves a Temple…for the Pentacostals. I mean if you can’t find yourself a house of worship in that list…what’s that? What’s a synogogue? Hell no, they don’t got any of them mosques down here. That’s a New York problem.

 Church “could change the lives of many people heading down the wrong path.”

Church will save you. You will get some of those morals thingies that non-criminals have if you go to church. You need God to be a good person.

In the video above, Chief Rowland tells us that 30-day drug and alcohol programs don’t work…that longevity of treatment is the key. He assures us that “long-term programs do work”. So why not extend drug and alcohol programs…why not have mandated attendance at post-program meetings, something that may address an underlying addiction? Or…there’s a invisible guy in the clouds, I guess.

People who commit crimes don’t attend church. If they start going to church, they won’t commit any more crimes.

I’m guessing that some of these misdemeanor criminals are already going to church. So, what you’re telling the good people of Bay Minette Alabama is…if you’re going to church and you commit a crime, there’s no punishment. You just keep going to church. You have just made misdemeanors easier to commit, Bay Minette. Good job.

This “solution” is small-minded and I will be shocked if it curbs crime in Bay Minette, Alabama. But let me know how that works out for you.

foursquaring for Vaccines

I use foursquare, which is part online game, part social media, part easy advertising for businesses. When I visit a place and “check in” I tell the world or just my circle of foursquare friends that I’m there, or that I’ve been there. foursquare seems to be great for local businesses – they can offer specials for checking in once (“show a cashier that you checked in and get $5 off your total at check out”), or offer loyalty programs (“check in here three times and receive a free Margarita”). foursquare is free for users, it’s a way for local businesses to advertise to their target market, and there’s a silly point program so you can compete with friends. From what I understand it’s similar to Facebook’s Places, but I don’t use Places, so I’m not sure how accurate the comparison is.

I’ve used foursquare to tell my friends when I’m visiting somewhere extremely cool or out of the ordinary (It was fun to tweet via foursquare that I was “checking in” to the sky deck of the Seattle Space Needle last month), and to get good deals ($5 mojitos at Stella’s Fish Cafe!). But yesterday I used it to SAVE LIVES!

I stopped at a Walgreens in South Minneapolis last night, and when I opened up Foursquare I was interested to see that Walgreens was offering a special. I stop at that particular store pretty often, but had never before seen them offer a special. I opened the tab and saw this:

I went online to learn more about the offer, and it turns out that through October 8th, Walgreens will donate one flu shot voucher for every valid foursquare or Facebook Places check-in. And you can go onto their Facebook page to vote for one of five groups that will receive a percentage of the flu shot vouchers (the organizations are Feeding America, the National Urban League, AmeriCares, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the American Diabetes Association).

How cool is that!? I love technology. And corporate giving. And vaccines. Win!

Fighting Kindness with Kindness

We’ve heard the stories of abortion doctors and clinic staff being harrassed at their places of employment and at their homes. Even those peripherally associated with clinics have been targeted by protesters for harrassment. 

A Germantown, Maryland abortion clinic landlord receives calls and letters from protesters every day. The anti-choice group Defend Life distributed to its members the landlord’s personal contact information, including the names of his wife and two children. Members were asked to write or call him to ask – in a polite, Christian manner – if he would evict the clinic occupants from his building. He reported that the phone calls and emails have so far been polite, but felt that the protesters went too far when this week they went to his children’s school and a held up a huge banner printed with his name, address, phone number and photograph and the words “Please Stop the Child-Killing” for all of the parents and children of the school to see. 

The landlord has had enough, and has decided to launch a counter-campaign to return the “loving” emails, letters and phone calls that he and his family have received since Defend Life has targeted them. From an article on the story from Alternet:

So he’s decided that it’s time to call back, politely, with thanks for the prayers and wishes he has received, and with the hope that a phone call and email will literally bring home to his “gentle” opponents what it’s like to have that safe personal space invaded–even by so-called well-wishers.

Here is one of the landlord’s original emails, which he sent to the early supporters of the campaign:

I would like to organize a campaign to call and email each of these “concerned citizens” back. It would be 100 times as thoughtful if each of the people who called or emailed me got 100 calls or emails from people who lovingly and in a Christian way said to them:

1) The family truly appreciates your prayers.

2) Your opinions and pleas have been heard but

3) Defend Life has unfortunately misinformed you about the [family]‘s legal rights regarding their ability to evict or terminate the lease of the clinic.

If you would like to help by sending polite emails, letters or phone calls to anti-choice protesters who have targeted the landlord, you can contact enddlterrorism@gmail.comto learn more. One thing to know: the landlord does not want people to be part of the campaign if they cannot be polite and non-confrontational. So no yelling, no threatening, no snark. If you can’t do that, don’t bother to sign up. Also, I volunteered to do some of this, but I’m watching out for my safety and privacy; I will be using a private, dedicated email account and a Google Voice phone number.

I think this is an interesting idea. I generally don’t engage in arguments with pro-lifers for the sake of attempting to change someone’s mind about the issue. But this campaign isn’t seeking to change people’s minds about abortion; it’s about getting individuals to rethink their tactics. If even one person is upset with the barrage of emails and phone calls that they’re about to get, perhaps they will understand how annoying and disruptive being on the receiving end of this type of campaign can be, and maybe they’ll decide not to engage in harrassing other human beings in this way in the future.

HPV Vaccine: Making It Personal

I watched the CNN Tea Party Republican debate on Monday night. I disagreed with a lot of the issues that the candidates presented, and my blood really boiled when the candidates skirted direct questions to make snarky personal attacks on each other and President Obama. And I really, really mourned for the human race when it became clear that the audience went wild every time a cutthroat comment was made, regardless of the comment’s bearing on the question at hand. But every now and then there was a bit of level-headed debate from some of the candidates on some of the issues.

The HPV vaccine was not one of them.

Four years ago Rick Perry signed an executive order that required Texas girls to be vaccinated against HPV. He was lambasted for that decision on several fronts. Some people believe that vaccination against the STI condones premarital sex (excuse me while I go weep in the corner), some  think that Perry abused the executive order to mandate health care, that he threatened parents’ rights to decide what is best for their children (even though the executive order allowed for parental opt-out), or that he signed the mandate in order to reward political donations from Merck, the producer of the vaccine. Michelle Bachmann, in an amazing show of moral self-righteousness, predatory fear-mongering, and willful ignorance of vaccine safety used all of these arguments to rail against Perry on Monday’s Republican debate.

Dear American voters – lead us not to Michelle Bachmann, but deliver us from her evil. For thine is the will of the people, and…you are our only hope. Or something like that.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big supporter of vaccines. We have regulatory bodies as well as an informed medical and scientific community that is able to evaluate the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Also, we have science! Science that any layman can access with a little bit of internet searching! If the majority of the medical establishment supports a vaccine, I’m behind it. Because you know what sucks? People suffering and dying from preventable illnesses.

The HPV vaccine offers hope to women because we are susceptible to HPV-caused cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection – 50% of sexually active Americans will become infected sometime in their lives. We need to stop viewing HPV infection as a punishment for having sex and start viewing it as a risk that we can decrease when we do have sex. Sex happens, so does HPV. Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!

I found the following personal story from Quiche Moraine on the Almost Diamonds blog. This is the kind of heartwrenching stress, agony, physical pain and emotional trauma that the HPV vaccine may help prevent. The vaccine is a medical wonder, and I shame those who pervert it into a political tool.

From Quiche Moraine:

One day your doctor calls. You think to yourself, “Huh. Last clinic, it would have been a nurse. Whatever.” And the news is good: Blood work, even the special stuff they did because you’ve not been feeling well and you have a family history, is perfectly, beautifully normal.

Oh, except the Pap smear came back abnormal and here’s the number for a gynecological clinic and tell them “CIN 2-3″ when you call to make the appointment for a colposcopy.
Continue Reading

Back to Reality and Rumpology

Okay, it’s been about two weeks of awesomeness and now it’s time to get back to work. I had a great time at Dragon*Con. I arrived home at about 11:30pm last night, and spent today unpacking, watching TV, doing a few light chores and in general just getting back into the everyday routine mindset. I’m not loving the fact that there’s an everyday routine mindset, but it is good to be home.

I’ve got a few blog posts in draft that I’m pretty excited to finish and get up on the blog, but I figured today I would tell you about my favorite new word and woo, and a then share a few final Dragon*Con photos.

Okay, first the new (to me) woo: RUMPOLOGY

I first heard this word from Tim Farley during a skeptics panel at Dragon*Con. The woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “What’s rumpology? It sounds like it has something to do with butts.” Friends, there is no gentle way to put this: Rumpology is butt reading. You’ve heard of palm reading? Apply that same idea to the ass and you’ve grasped the subject. Jackie Stallone is a self-described astrologer, psychic and rumpologist. If you send her a photo of your bottom she will tell you about your past, your future and your “natural personality characteristics”, whatever that means. And all for the LOW, LOW PRICE of $600! The website claims are embarrassing – there are no references or anything that looks like supporting evidence for the supposed history of rumpology, or the claims that one butt cheek tells you about your past, the other about your future and the gluteal cleft (Read: hairy ass crack) tells you about your personality.

Seems legit. Let me get my checkbook.

Butt while I’m doing that, enjoy a few final Dragon*Con costumes (click on any photo for the making bigger):

This is probably my favorite “I was at Dragon*Con” souvenir photo. In my opinion, the weeping angels are one of the creepiest Doctor Who characters that I’ve seen, and this was the best angel costume at the con.

A very well done Blade. The weapons are dead on – the sword, the fictional gun, the silver spikes and EDTA darts. Bravo to the detail!

The Vision

Captain America

Dragon*Con

First, if you follow me on twitter or facebook, I must apologize. I just went and dropped this Dragon*Con chaos on you with very little warning. So if it’s been annoying, I do hope you laughingly shrugged off all of the dozens of wacky, zany status updates and ignored me.

If, however, you have been vicariously experiencing Dragon*Con through my updates…this event is AWESOME! (Here’s where you say, “I know, RIGHT???”)

I originally came to Dragon*Con, strangely enough, not because of my scifi/fantasy nerdiness, but because I heard about it through my involvement with skeptic podcasts, blogs and groups. I had thought that I would spend most of my time in the room dedicated to the Skeptic track. And don’t get me wrong, I could have. But this. is. DRAGON*CON!

DRAGON*CON!!!!

Or shoot, no, I meant:

DRAGON*KHAAAAAAAN!

Okay, enough of that specific brand of silliness.

So, because Dragon*Con has all sorts of sci-fi/fantasy/science/gaming/pop culture offerings I have found a whole slew of interesting panels to attend. I’ve managed to go to panels in four out of the five hotels and have hit six different fan tracks: Skeptics, Podcasting, Main Programming, American Sci-Fi Media, Anne McCaffery’s Worlds, and British Sci-Fi Media. I’m a little proud of myself.

I could spend a couple or three hundred words telling you how thought-provoking the Coming Out Skeptical (JT Eberhard) and Everything Evolves (Dr. Eugenie Scott) panels were, or how exciting it was to be in the front row for the Paul and Storm Talk About Some Stuff for Five Minutes podcast, how neat it was to be in the same room as Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner for a Star Trek Q&A, and later to see Eddie McClintock from Warehouse 13, Felicia Day, Amy Okuda, Robin Thorsen, and a bunch of other famous people in the autograph room, how suprisingly pleased I was with The Ship Who Sang reading which had a full cast of people playing characters (including Anne McCaffery’s son Todd McCaffery) and made me cry like a baby, how fun it was to participate in the British Sci-Fi Media fan-led panel on all things Neil Gaiman, and how super excited I was to get a good seat for the live podcast of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.  

But we all know that you mostly want to see pictures.

Here’s me – Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree!

I had fun in the Marriot – a suprising number of people recognized me as The Giving Tree, a bunch of other people yelled “A shrubbery!” (from The Holy Grail), only two people guessed that I was an Ent (from Lord of the Rings), and a lot of people wanted to take photos with me. I actually scared a few people because I was standing against a wall and they thought I was a lobby plant until they met my eyes, which I found hi-larious! Unfortunately, I underestimated my ability to move around the uber-crowded public areas and almost took out a few eyes with my pointy tree branches. It was nerve-wracking, and I really needed a handler. Also, finding room in the hotel elevators was pretty hellish. Overall, though, it was a good experience and I enjoyed walking around in costume.

And here’s some of the other amazing costumes. Amazing. Really, really fascinatingly amazing. Enjoy.

Characters: Han Solo frozen in carbonite, Princess Leia, Jigsaw, Not sure who the dragon and guy in the tech suit are, Queen of Hearts, Characters from Batman universe, Harley Quinn, Bat Women, K-9 (Doctor Who), Iron Men and Woman, Beaker, Flasher C3-PO, 9, Robotic Flying Shark, Nyan Mouse, Death (Sandman), R2-D2, Superman with young Yoda and Batman, Waldo, Freaky Clowns, Zelda (Delirium from Sandman in background), Unknown characters in front of a TARDIS, Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden at a Star Trek Q&A (okay, not technically “characters”, but awesome enough to get a photo in the slideshow).