Why I Love Dadabhoy and Rad

I tool around the atheosphere at least a bit each week and see and read lots of cool stuff. This week two unrelated things struck me. This is where I gush about two of my favorite artists and thinkers, who achieve awesome without a Ph.D.

First the Rad

I have always been very impressed by Cristina Rad’s vlog. It’s pretty much the only one I watch (so I was very sad when she went on hiatus). This was not because all the others suck, of course, but because I have so little time to spare for that luxury, and I always know hers will be a virtuoso performance that I’ll learn something from. Rad’s work is always smart, informed, thoughtful, meticulous, and funny. And for her, constructing a video is art. And as an artist, she has an admirable talent that sometimes just leaves me in awe (I suspect most people just take her editing and design and informal scripting for granted, and don’t notice how clever it is, and how hard it would be for most to do well, and how above the curve for the medium it is, without fancy tech).

Photograph of Cristina Rad speaking at a conference, in front of a transparent podium, with a high end microphone attached, all against a black background, with long curly reddish hair pushed back and stylish jacket; she gestures to make a point.One thing I also love most in life is when someone makes an argument better than me. So all I have to do is point people there, confident it covers all bases, and I have no more work to do. They have all their ducks in a row, they hit every point, they anticipate every objection, they actually researched the matter, and they nail every fact and step of reasoning, leaving nothing more to be said. And they do it so tightly and engagingly you want to follow it all. And you are kind of in awe at how well the point is made. Matthew Ferguson’s take-down of the 10-42 apologetic is an example: something I wanted to argue but never found the time, yet not only did he do all the work of researching and composing it, he also did it better than I would have. It was a great day.

Cristina Rad also does that for me a lot of the time. And she did it again this week.

You may be tired of the whole Elliot Rodger debate, having read a zillion things on it already. That was one reason I never weighed in on it: others here at FtB and Skepchick and beyond already said everything there was to say, and I didn’t feel like there was anything more I could contribute of any quality. But I still had some thoughts on the matter. When Jaclyn Glenn went on her rant over it, and then notpologied for it, I immediately had arguments in my head against what she was doing, but I failed to think of any useful or productive way to articulate them.

Well, guess what. Cristina Rad just produced a response to Glenn that is everything I was thinking and more. She argues the case I had in mind, but way better than I would have. And it’s a paradigmatic example of Rad’s genius, as a communicator, editor, researcher, thinker. And artist (though this video has a more straightforward style). You definitely won’t be bored with this one, no matter how much Elliot Rodger stuff you’ve mulled through by now. Definitely watch her video. It’s packed with good information and analysis and insight. Not a second wasted. And it’s a pleasure to view and listen to: ELLIOT RODGER: MADMAN vs. MISOGYNIST (a response to JaclynGlenn). And hey, she’s a starving artist, too, so also upvote it if you deem it worthy. I believe you will.

Thank you, Cristina Rad. You are awesome. Don’t ever stop doing what you do best!

Then the Dadabhoy

So, while still being impressed by that, I noodled around the atheosphere some more, and almost right away happened on the latest by one of my favorite bloggers, Heina Dadabhoy. I also have so little time to spare for reading blogs that I have to be incredibly selective there as well. Dadabhoy’s blogging is always so well written, concise, witty and smart, and always teaches me things, something I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, often both, that it always bears reading. I was struck by how paradigmatic an example of all that her most recent entry was, just like Cristina Rad’s latest vlog was for her. And that in a one-two punch in one sitting, by pure chance. So I’m praising her here, too. I’m sure you can cope.

Photograph of Heina Dadabhoy in a cute black peasant dress, looking thoughtful and happy in a power pose, with her short, lovely, curly dark hair and light brown skin (her family hails from India).I’m talking about Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation. I thought maybe it would be a quick but deserved winge about the fallacious trope of claiming atheists must be more moral than Christians because so few prisoners are atheists, maybe by calling up the usual problem with that: that declarations of faith are often highly motivated, and thus hardly indicative of honest belief, in a prison environment dominated by patriarchal Christian authorities. You pretty much need to be a Christian (or of some “God-fearing” faith) to get parole, or good treatment. And you are a captive audience to Christian evangelization (which gets favoritism from the authorities far over any hypothetical humanist evangelization there could have been but obviously totally isn’t). And you are in a population under extreme stress, poverty, and despair, whose everyday welfare is frighteningly unpredictable–a toxic mix of conditions so suited for causing religious belief that a sociologist could hardly design better conditions for it, short of a theocracy. So how on earth can we draw any conclusions about the population outside prison from underrepresentation of atheism in prison? That’s case enough, I thought.

Well, Dadabhoy surprised me. She didn’t go there (though she could have). She came at it from a completely different perspective, one also obviously correct, which adds a great deal more understanding to the problem, yet that I had not really thought much about before. And she expresses it in an amazingly brief, thought-and-information packed way. And even has time for a few related, context-clarifying digressions. Wow.

Thank you, Heina Dadabhoy. You are awesome. Don’t ever stop doing what you do best!

Another Humanist Running for Congress in a Red District!

Photo of Barbara StockerCheck this out. And give her some help if you can. Barbara Stocker, an atheist and dedicated humanist, is running for US Congress…in Missouri! She’s the Democratic Candidate for the 8th Congressional District, and will be first on the ballot, the only woman against a field of three conservative men, and the only progressive in the race.

Stocker is a retired scientist (having worked in safety and environmental health for major corporations) and a “believer in a government that works for the people,” defending “Social Security and Medicare, cooperation in Congress, and investment in infrastructure.” She’s pro-growth for the economy, anti-austerity for the government. She is interested in protecting or promoting good regulations, and eliminating burdensome ones. And she has made a special point of concern for improving every aspect of how we treat our veterans.

Stocker has also been an active member of several freethought organizations, having published with the Council for Secular Humanism and the International League of Non-Religious and Atheists and participating in the Rationalist Society of St. Louis, where she accepted an award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union on behalf of the Atheist Centre (of India) at an Atheist Alliance International convention. She has also represented AAI at meetings of the Coalition for the Community of Reason. So she’s no idle humanist.

Find out more (and how to donate to her campaign if you are keen) at StockerinCongress.com (see also her campaign Facebook page). There may be many ways to help (e.g. as a campaign volunteer, podcaster, etc.), so if that sounds interesting, you can contact her there. I blogged about another progressive atheist candidate running for Congress in a conservative district in Arizona earlier this year (and his campaign could use help, too…he, too, has a remote but plausible shot at winning). Let’s hope this is a trend. The mere fact that they made the ballot is a sign of progress. Eventually, if we keep supporting them, atheists will actually start getting elected, too.

First in the Family Scholarship Fund

Last year I blogged about the amazing First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Initiative launched by Black Skeptics of LA to help send minority atheists to college. If you missed that (or need to refresh your memory), check out my article on that, Help Minority Atheists to College. To learn more about the evolution of the initiative, and to donate for the fund this year, see their new IndieGogo page. I really hope you donate, because it will make up for my not being able to this year. We are saving money to survive sending Jen back to school for a career change, so the belt is going to be tight for us for a while and we need every penny to get by. So I’m saddened I can’t help this cause this year. But maybe I can inspire enough people to!

The Other Woman Game

I have a game to propose. Read on to see how to play. It’s about recommending better movies to watch. And rewarding artists.

Miniature of the movie poster for The Other Woman, with Cameron Diaz looking all crushed and being glommed on and wrapped around by the other two leggy, smiley women.The new film The Other Woman is making heaping wads of blockbuster cash. Even though, evidently, it is nearly every kind of awful and sets women back thirty years. Linda Holmes produces a most scathing and informative critique of the movie that is a must-read (h/t Amanda at Skepchick). You can also see the trailer for the gist of the plot.

What struck me as I read that review is that I had seen this movie before. Except, in every single way Holmes points out this one sucked, that one didn’t, but did exactly the opposite of everything Holmes rightly complained about. It was as if a time traveler read her review, went back in time, and made the movie Holmes would have liked, based on her review.

That movie is If I Were You, starring Marcia Gay Harden, Leonore Watling, and Aidan Quinn (and directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin). Even apart from the fact that I have a major life-long crush on Marcia Gay Harden, I can vouch for the fact that this was a fantastic film, unique, funny, engaging, well-written, well-directed, and superbly performed. You won’t ever have seen anything like it.

The stock description reads:

After Madelyn (Academy Award Winner Marcia Gay Harden) and Lucy (Leonor Watling) meet by chance, they make a pact to fix their unhappy lives: they will only do what the other one says and ignore their own instincts. But Madelyn has a secret. She knows her husband is sleeping with Lucy, a much younger and beautiful woman. Madelyn’s plan backfires when Lucy, an aspiring actress, orders her to play King Lear in a very amateur production, with Lucy playing the Fool. Madelyn’s life is transformed in unexpected ways as, like Lear, she struggles with matters of mortality and betrayal, loyalty and love.

Yeah. That. Huh? Right. BTW, one of the best King Lear performances I’ve ever seen. By a woman.

Miniature of movie poster for If I Were You, showing Marcia Gay Harden poking her head through a red theatre curtain, and a picture of her character's husband's mistress below.Even though it’s about two women hand-wringing over a man (sort of like The Other Woman, only unlike The Other Woman, there’s just one other woman, and the man is likable enough to plausibly explain why both women want him), it still Bechdel tests well (although the trailer doesn’t). The story isn’t identical to The Other Woman (obviously…I mean, hello, the wife ends up playing King Lear), but it is similar enough that one can see that if someone who had all of Holmes’ concerns about The Other Woman decided to write a similarly themed film, they’d end up with something like If I Were You. Smarter, funnier, more compelling, more moving, more plausible (yes, even the playing of King Lear). No one is a caricature. The woman are different and well motivated and emotionally complex and have fuller lives than just the man they are after. The “other woman” is dumber than the wife, but believably so, and sympathetically. And the man isn’t a ridiculous wax-moustachioed sexist villain. (He’s just a so-so guy who cheats on his wife.)

This got me to thinking. How often does this happen?

  1. Big, major blockbuster film gets made and earns tons of cash, despite being a total piece of crap (predominantly that means: badly written, full of eye-rolling cliches, stereotypes, and unforgivable implausibilities, and probably insulting to millions of people).
  2. Little, barely-seen-or-even-known film very similar to it had already been made years before, which is an artistic achievement, with great writing, acting, and direction, that is in every way better than its awful mutant blockbuster twin (fraternal twin, since we aren’t saying the films are identically plotted, just similarly themed enough that most of what’s special about the bad one is in the good one, so if you accidentally burned one of them the world would be a better place).
  3. And the money goes to the crap.

I had a similar experience when I learned about God’s Not Dead, the deeply offensive, absurdly written garbage pile that is now the shame of Kevin Sorbo (in this case, the review to read is by philosopher Dan Fincke: in summary and in detail). Watching the trailer to that (yes, actually in a theater, having never heard of it before) I kept thinking (between bouts of Jen and I busting into laughter), “Wait, I’ve seen this movie before, only it didn’t go in the bullshit direction this one clearly is.” That movie is Salvation Boulevard, starring Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosna, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, and Ciarán Hinds (and directed by George Ratliff).

Miniature of movie poster for Salvation Boulevard, shows Pierce Brosnan above looking regal, Greg Kinear and Jennifer Connelly behind him smiling, and a giant bible below, standing upright, in which Greg Kinnear's character is being squeezed and suffocated.Again, Salvation Boulevard isn’t the exact same film. But it shares similar themes enough to be curious. For example, it centers around a debate over God’s existence between a caustic atheist professor and a Christian (in this case a big-money preacher), although this opens the film rather than serves as its climax. Likewise, the central character is a naive Christian struggling to deal with what’s going on through the course of the film, and comes to realizations and renewed confidence by the end. And there are several lesser themes loosely similar. But contrary to what God’s Not Dead does, which is deviate from every plausible reality and produce awful cliches and insulting caricatures (even of its heroes), Salvation Boulevard uses only a few and relatively minor reality-stretching plot points and even those it makes poignantly plausible, and then sends us on a ride that explores a world of religion and faith and loyalty and corruption much closer to reality.

It’s also funny.

(As you can tell from the trailer, but I say, don’t watch that, or read about the film, because  spoilers–just watch it not knowing what’s going to happen and let the plot twists surprise you.)

I think to “get” the game I have in mind, you have to at least read Holmes’ review of The Other Woman and watch the trailer to God’s Not Dead. Then puke. Then actually buy and watch If I Were You and Salvation Boulevard (both are available on Amazon instant video, as well as DVD; see links above). Then you’ll see what I mean. I’m not looking for movies that are exactly or even mostly the same, but that are enough the same that you can compare and contrast them fruitfully. Yet one is a major cash-earning pile of puke, and the other is a far lesser known masterpiece of good writing and acting. It’s a “Don’t watch that. Watch this.” kind of game.

How many movie-pairs like that can you come up with? This is something definitely worth crowdsourcing, because the lesser known movies by nature have been seen by too few people. You will have seen lots of those I haven’t. And so on. Maybe we can help reward actually good filmmakers who deserve to have their work seen and supported more, and send them a little royalty money, by boosting their signal just a touch.

So this is what I shall dub The Other Woman Game: bookmark this post, then post in comments (even if it is months or years from now) every time you think of a pair of movies that scores a hit according to the criteria set above, in the same way Salvation Boulevard pairs with God’s Not Dead and If I Were You with The Other Woman. That’s the challenge. Go!

I Interview a Groovy Atheist Running for Congress in Arizona

Facebook photo of Arizona congressional candidate James Woods, looking smart in short blond hair, in dark suit, white shirt, dark red tie, dark glasses and holding his mobility cane just in frame.James Woods is running for US Congress. (No, I don’t mean the actor, nor the dead guy from Virginia. I mean this guy.) What’s so special about that? He’s an atheist. An out atheist. In fact, a humanist active in the movement. Who actually asked atheists to interview him about his campaign. And blog about it. Now I feel like I’m living in the 21st century. He is not hiding from his membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He’s making it a focal point of his campaign: it’s what makes him a better representative of the people. He is representing the people who don’t usually get represented.

Woods also happens to be blind. And part of his campaign is about representing the disabled, and minorities of all stripes, who usually don’t have a voice in Congress. If elected he would be the first blind person in Congress in nearly a hundred years. His politics are progressive. He has a good head on his shoulders. He sounds like he’d be perfect for the job. But alas, though a native Arizonan, he is running in an Arizona district that is predominately Republican. He has his work cut out for him. I’d vote for him if he were in my district. You can see what he’s all about at his Facebook page.

He’s running against a Republican incumbent (Matt Salmon, the same buy who ran for governor in Arizona a while back) whom the Secular Coalition for America gave a grade of F on his secular report card. The kind of guy who supports bills barring homosexual couples from adopting, denying equal marriage rights, stopping the government from providing information on comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Yes, he even voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The kind of guy who shouldn’t be in Congress. Because he spends his time opposing the rights of American citizens and harming our country and its people.

Woods wants to be the one to replace that guy. And his campaign asked me to interview him because Woods wants to reach out to underrepresented voting blocks, including the secular, atheist, and humanist communities. He is planning similar press days for other underrepresented groups, including the transgender community and people with disabilities. Topics we at Freethought Blogs have been trying to give some visibility to as well (see the video lineup at our last FTBConscience online conference).

I asked Woods six challenging questions to see how he thinks and where he stands on a sample of keystone issues. His answers are well worth reading. You won’t usually hear this stuff from a real Congressional candidate. It’s the kind of bold honesty we actually want from our elected leaders, but rarely get.

[Read more...]

Big Win! ‘Humanists’ Now Recognized by the US Army

Are you a nonbeliever in the US Army or know someone who is? Let them know you can now identify as “humanist” on dog tags and military records. Unfortunately the other four services still don’t allow this (absurdly), but you have a chance to change that if you or someone you know are serving in the other forces, because they can now make a request and cite the Army as precedent. And maybe those forces will change to recognize that humanists exist, too, and have the same rights as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or anyone else.

This is a major accomplishment by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (in coordination with the ACLU). An official “Religious Preference” is important to military personnel not only because it allows their beliefs to be recognized on equality with any other belief system (and be counted in military statistics), but also because it can affect which chaplaincies get created and funded (and other related rights, such as access to chapel facilities, and everything else the religious get in the military), which is crucial for men and women in the service, who need these things in ways ordinary civilians do not.

The religious have the right to counsel from a chaplain, for example, to discuss problems or seek moral advice, and this comes with several privileges–such as, conversations with a chaplain are confidential (whereas, for example, albeit perversely, conversations with a psychotherapist often are not, even though that increasing lack of confidentiality destroys the medical efficacy of therapy). Chaplains can also act as advocates throughout the chain of command (most important for adherents of minority belief-systems facing discrimination or being ignored, but again just to be on equality with believers: believers can avail themselves of chaplain advocacy; atheists and humanists should have that same right). Chaplains can also facilitate requests for access to literature or family communications on the front lines. Everything they do for Christians can and should be available equally to atheists and humanists. And getting humanism recognized is the first crucial step toward that goal.

The MAAF is working to have a humanist chaplaincy finally created in the military to serve the military atheist and humanist community. There is no reason for the military not to do this, other than prejudice and immoral opposition from religious leaders. In other words, discrimination. One way to ensure the military cannot claim to be a religious body is if it officially recognizes non-religious chaplaincies. That’s precisely why religious leaders oppose this. Even though it would be an expression of fairness and equality under the law. So this recent victory with the Army, [Read more...]

Time to Buy Greta Christina’s Awesome New Book!

Greta Christina’s new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, is superb. I am confident it will be the definitive read on its topic for decades. She researched the hell out of it and covers nearly every conceivable angle. For example, there’s a chapter discussing the problem from the perspective of atheists in the military, and it’s very thoughtful and useful. And that’s just an example. An amazing number of awesome leaders and thinkers in our movement have given this book powerful endorsements, for a variety of reasons you can read about (Greta covers a lot of them here, and tons are included on her book’s Amazon page under editorial reviews). There are also electronic and audio editions (for a full list of editions and links, including for buyers who don’t want to use Amazon to get the print edition, go here).