Citizens Speak Out About Police Brutality in St. Paul

I would like to offer a standing ovation and thunderous THANK YOU to the gentleman who filmed this video. The quality is good, he calmly narrated what he was seeing, and he remained focused on the victim – Eric Hightower – despite what looks like one of the crowd control cops trying to block the cameraman’s view with his body around the 3:50 mark.

THANK YOU to Angela Hulbert, who according to the Star Tribune article, posted the video to YouTube, called the mayor’s office, sent the video to Internal Affairs and spoke with IA Wednesday morning.

The on-lookers complied with police orders, but they didn’t do so quietly. When the crowd protests Zilge’s treatment of Hightower, we can hear the cop yell “He beat up a woman last night. Calm down.” Which even if true, dear readers, in no way justifies the kicking, hair-pulling and slamming of Eric’s head into the police car.

Look at how many patrols were called to the area. Look at how many white police officers are present. Note how few black officers are present.

This video shows police brutality and contains strong language.

The text on the video posted on YouTube reads:

A police officer’s conduct while taking a suspect into custody has sparked allegations of police brutality. The incident occurred Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn., when Officer Jesse Zilge spotted 30-year-old Eric Hightower, who police were searching for after he allegedly threatened to kill an acquaintance. Hightower is seen lying on the ground after Zilge sprayed him with a chemical irritant. At one point, Zilge kicks him in the chest. Later, Zilge and another officer slam a handcuffed Hightower onto a squad car and also appear to pull his hair. Zilge was placed on administrative leave after an investigation was launched.

I don’t want a cop who behaves this way to be trusted to work with the public or interpreting how to enforce laws. I hope they fire Officer Zilge and charge him with assault. I hope the city of St. Paul pays damages to Eric Hightower for this city-enabled abuse of one of its citizens.

The Jellyfish Tragedy

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger, written during the cold and long winter of December 2010.

Winsor Locks, CT

In a rarely-seen or photographed event, thousands of hapless jellyfish on their way to spawn were stranded and frozen along the shores of the Connecticut River last week. The gelatinous creatures are not uncommon, but usually go unnoticed because they are a cold water species. But the necessities of reproduction bring them together in great numbers this time of year, as they return to their traditional spawning grounds. A freakish combination of weather conditions allowed lucky and observant onlookers to enjoy this serendipitous spectacle.

High and Dry and Frozen © Ellen Bulger

“As a rule, we don’t even notice them.” explained Caleb Shoeworthy, whose family have fished these waters for shad for five generations. “The thing is, you just can’t see them in the river. They have no color. You could have half a dozen of them in that bucket and you’d swear there was nothing but water. Even the big ones are pretty much invisible.”

[Read more…]

6 O’Clock BS: Gluten-Free Pizza

Tonight I made gluten-free pizza! I used a Red Mill Mix, but it required yeast and mixing and other related baking shit, so I think it counts as fancy cooking.

First, the crust:

Pizza Mix, Olive Oil, Eggs, Yeast in warm water

The yeast had to sit for a few minutes, then I added the eggs and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then the pizza flour mix was added in and mixed on medium for 1 to 2 minutes.

[Read more…]

6 O’Clock BS – I <3 Flash Mobs

I’d love to find myself in the middle of a flash mob someday! What a great vehicle for expression and a memorable way to show that you’ve organized people to make a statement*. Speaking of – if anyone has a link to video of the California Domestic Workers “Respect” flash mob that was supposed to have happened on 8/21/12 at the Sacramento State Capitol can you post it in the comments? I found the instructional video on YouTube, but a brief search on YT and Vimeo hasn’t yielded video of the actual flash mob.

This one’s a little older. It was put on to celebrate (okay, probably advertise) the 50th anniversary of West Side Story. Fun!

*Or no apparent statement or art for art’s sake.

Savoring Flavors: A Welcoming Toast to Atheism Plus

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

One of the interesting things about being an aging human is how our flavor preferences can change. Senses are dull a bit, which is a bummer. But no dark cloud is without some silver lining. With muted taste buds some previously overwhelming foods become, as Ms. Goldilocks would put it, just right.

I’ve always craved bitter greens. Cooked or raw, you can’t feed me too much arugula. But until recently I’ve never been fond of bitter and sweet combinations in confections unless there was also an acid component.

Then I started drinking Sanbittèr, a non-alcoholic Campari made by Pellegrino. It came in tiny bottles, a serving size that even Michael Bloomberg would endorse. What’s more, the vivid red color of the stuff was like a stop sign in a glass. It provided such heavy sensory input that you didn’t require much at all. Drinking it was a crazy little contradictory ride. I loved it.

Inside the Carton of Red © Ellen Bulger

Despite the most adorable packaging in the world, Sanbittèr wasn’t popular in the states. It was less popular, even, than Marmite (another of my middle-aged flavor kicks). I had to go to Italian-import specialty stores to find Sanbittèr. Then not long ago, it vanished off the shelves. I couldn’t get my fun little treat any more.

At the same time, the parent company extended their successful Limonata line with grapefruit and blood orange sodas. Most domestic soda is all high-fructose corn syrup  and artificial flavoring. But get this, those crazy Italians use sugar and actual fruit!

Bitters Bottle Base © Ellen Bulger

But the swap of Sanbittèr for Aranciata Rossa echoes marketing trends where only best sellers are marketed. Harry Potter and Batman and pasty pouty vampires are available at every chain pharmacy and big box outlet. And you know there are a lot of people who don’t care fuck all about wizards or comic book crime fighters or teeny-bopper bloodsuckers. But because their interests are diverse, they become invisible to the marketers as there’s no one big homogenized target to hit. I want to take a stand at the grocery store and rip out the invasive Oreo-branded products that are expanding down the cookie aisle like the baked goods version of Phragmites grass. Screw it. I’ll bake my own cookies.

Empty Soldiers in the Morning © Ellen Bulger

In brick and mortar retail, try to find a copy of “Schizopolis” or, oh, anything by Fellini. And yes, we can find just about anything via internet. But you can’t Google something if you can’t even imagine it exists. It is a struggle to maintain the public memory of the possibilities of offbeat, bittersweet alternatives. No, no, no say I! I won’t drink the cultural Kool-aid. If you don’t have what I want, I’ll find it elsewhere, I’ll make it myself. And I might just team up with other people who crave Persian mint yogurt soda or homemade sumac syrup with seltzer. If I sit and sip shandy with these people, I’ll get insights about soda pop that Coke drinkers would never imagine.

So too with Atheism Plus. Diversity can be challenging and stressful. But those who resist it don’t realize how much they stand to gain by embracing it. It’s interesting. It’s exciting. It’s delicious.

And at the end of the day, we’re all thirsty.

6 O’Clock BS: Creative Commons is Cool

You never know where your stuff is going to show up!

I received this email in my Flickr inbox recently:

Hi Brianne,

I love your photo of Foggy Blue Morning Dive! We used it on Adventure Awaits, a blog and storytelling site for Washington State Parks.

You’ll see your photo on one of our blog posts here of Go Discover: Scuba Diving:

Again, thanks so much for putting your photos in Creative Commons – we love profiling great captures of our parks.

Tee hee! I’m on a website for Washington State Parks promoting scuba diving. How fun!

Here’s the photo:

Foggy Blue Morning Dive

And being the awesome Creative Commons-respecting website they are, the photo links back to my Flickr account where I originally posted it. The only annoying thing is that while I’m now “Washington State Park Go Discover Scuba Diving” internet famous (got a whole 27 views on that there photo – w00t!), my little sister gets the photographer bragging rights. Damn it!

Cross-Country Connections: Wildlife

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in very different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Wildlife.

And this is a somewhat special Cross-Country Connection because it will be Erin’s last photograph contributed from Washington state. In a few days she’ll begin a literal cross-country drive with her husband that will land them in their new home in Washington D.C.! She’s landed an uber-sweet job at a museum out there, and there are some exciting career opportunities for her partner also. I’m really excited that I’ll have a place to stay for the Women In Secularism conference next year for her and her new job. Congrats, seestor!

From Mom in Carbondale, Illinois: 

A white heron and turtles on Crab Orchard Lake

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota: 

A Mourning Cloak butterfly seen this weekend on Madeline Island, Wisconsin.

From Erin in Bellingham, Washington: 

 Seen on US Rt. 20 in Skagit County in Washington State.  A whole herd of elk with a monster of a bull in the lead. It was an amazing send off from Washington state. This marks the last of my Cross Country Connections from Washington. The next two weeks will document the cross country move and then in three weeks will be my first entry from a whole new Washington, as we are moving to Washington DC!

6 O’Clock BS – That Came Outta There!?

It looks like this is a bit older, but if you haven’t seen it… This is a cool video of a very big stick insect hatching, unfolding from its teeny tiny egg. I just want to reach out and help him get those last bits of leg free! C’mon insect buddy – you can do it!

(Hmmm…The video isn’t loading correctly for me from vimeo right now. If you’re having trouble too, here’s a link to New Scientist which also has it posted)

The Lord Howe stick insect is otherwise known as a tree lobster, which is also the name of one of my favorite web comics.

Hat tap to JREF research fellow Kyle Hill on Twitter

Bible or College?

On the drive into work today I saw an [sarcasm] AWESOME [/sarcasm] bumper sticker. Ready?

A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.

*sigh* This is why we can’t have nice things.

Aside from this being a ridiculous premise – (Which is going to help you in the real world: a thorough knowledge of a fairy tale/horror story/slash fiction or a real-world-based education?) – I got pissed off for another reason.

Earlier this month at the American Atheists Regional Conference in St. Paul I had a chance to hear Teresa MacBain, an ex-pastor, speak about how hard it was for her to leave her church. At the Midwest Freethought Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, Jerry DeWitt shared some of his story about leaving the church after 25 years as a Pentacostal minister. He also introduced ex-evangelical preacher Dan Barker at that conference.

Dan Barker heads up The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who no longer believe in the supernatural. Dan spoke about some of the challenges that clergy members have to think about when they want to quit the church. One of the big ones is career placement. How hard must it be to fill out a resume and have little other job experience to write down than “preacher” for the past 10, 20, 30 years? How well does that thorough knowledge of the bible serve ex-clergy when they leave the church and have to find a new career?

But I don’t know; this is outside my experience. And I had a thought: Does a theology degree translate well to changing careers mid-life? For those of us who go to college, we all specialize in something and that doesn’t necessarily keep us from changing careers. The difference is, I think,  that we don’t have to worry about losing belief in biology, physics, math, business, art, computer science, literature, history. These subjects are based in reality and they prepare us for taking a place in a reality-based world.

But then this bumper sticker isn’t saying a theology degree is worth more than any other degree. I’m betting in this case it falls more along the lines of “if you know the Good Book real good, that’s worth more than book-learning at one of them librul colleges.”

Creatives not Creationists

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

When the lines of engagement are drawn, most everyone counts science on the side of atheism. But many theists claim art as theirs and theirs alone. Atheists, we are told, are cold, bitter, empty souls. “Look,” we are admonished, “look at all the great art that was created in the name of religion.” Endlessly we hear how artists come down on the side of god.

Folded Church © Ellen Bulger

I call bullshit.

I hear the magnificent musical masses and songs of praise. I can’t take my eyes off the soaring cathedrals with their stained glass and altar triptychs. But you think those things are proof that creativity springs from a god? Then you are so not an artist.

Artists need to eat. Artists need to buy materials. Artists need a place to live and work. Artists need their work to be seen because it is, after all, COMMUNICATION.

Artists need to be safe from persecution. Not for nothing, if you do sculpture or painting in a totalitarian state, you seriously increase your chances for sponsorship by perfecting a style of portraiture that reflects back at the PTB like Snow White’s Stepmother’s mirror. You might even extend your life expectancy. During much of Europe’s history, you towed the line of whatever Christian sect was dominant at the given time, or you risked your life, never mind getting a big fat generous patron. The only grants available during the dark ages were from the church. It is no coincidence that the fundies want to shut down the NEA.

But having been through the art school route, I can tell you that there is damn little discussion of god. Or rather, god gets no more attention than science or politics and considerably less attention than light, form, color, composition and, oh yes, sex and death. As far as I can tell, contemporary artists explore god mostly as a concept. Artists are less interested about god than they are in man’s relationship to god, in much the same way as they are interested in man’s relationship to everything else. Doubtless there are exceptions. And if artists want to question god and religion, they aren’t necessarily vocal about it. What they do is, put those questions into their work and then display it and let the public do the interpreting. Artists might rub your nose in issues public and private, but they won’t necessarily spell it out for you. You are required to participate.

Artist © Ellen Bulger

The artists I know who are atheists are quiet atheists. And there are artists who are quietly religious. But the public discussion between artists is not one of “Let us strive to express the glory of god!” as some would have you believe.

The pandering politicians who bristle at contemporary art yearn for the good old days. Yet their very reactionary reactiveness has elevated Serrano’s Piss Christ into an iconic work of historical significance. Do they realize that? Mustn’t it just, you should pardon the expression, grill their cheese?

Many conservatives would like all art to be propagandist patriotic or comforting mirrors to the collective narcissism. It’s queasy making. Really, atheists should get together and commission a spectacularly tacky 30-ft bronze of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It would be a droll and delightful project. And we should install it in the lobby of a National Museum of Atheism. I’m envisioning a modest-yet-imposing marble structure of Greek revival-style architecture. We should raise money and acquire an existing building or build one right in D.C.. Then wait and pray for Banksy to come along and tag the motherfuckin’ shit out of the exterior. EVEN IF HE IS CRITICIZING US. Wear it proudly, like the best ink EVER.

Great art often makes people uncomfortable. Like science, art is an exploration. Art is also communication. Science asks, what do we know, what is real? Sometimes art just says LOOK, and leaves the rest up to you. Art often asks, what do we think, and why do we think it? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes music, not history. They don’t change the way people think about music and sound and the world. They don’t challenge us.

Creative expression is not magical, even if observer and artist alike are often unaware of the processes at work. The religious think that art is a gift from god. Scientists act like they suspect artists are idiot savants.

What both sides miss is that art is problem solving. Artists, like scientists, build on the work of those who came before them. But unlike scientists, they are free to ignore the old knowledge and head off in an entirely new direction. Instead of standing on shoulders, artists might choose to tie some giant shoelaces together to catch the Titans unaware.

Art can simultaneously be freewheeling and an intellectual exercise, though often a non-verbal one. Art is banging together concept rocks in your head to make sparks, make FIRE. To really dig it, you have to let go. You can’t just be comfortable with uncertainty, you have to seek it. You have to crave it. Or so it seems to me.

These are my thoughts. I’m just one artist, a very tiny sample size of me. I’d like to hear from other artists who are atheists and see what they have to say. I’d like to feature their art here.

As atheists, we believe that man created god, not the other way around. As artists? Hell, we just get down to work and create.