On Availability

Artificial dichotomies bother some people;
With only two options to choose,
But sometimes, two choices are all that you need—
Like which do, and which don’t, make the news

The killings we see on the six o’clock news
Are the killings that happen in bunches
They frighten the viewers, and panic the anchors,
And inundate “experts” with hunches.

The killings that don’t make the news are the ones
That are filling the morgues and statistics;
By ones or by twos, these homicides hide
Their unfortunate characteristics

We focus on killings that catch our attention—
The ones that stand out from the noise;
Ignoring the killings that don’t make the headlines,
With just one or two girls or boys.

A gun that goes off that I swear wasn’t loaded—
It’s kept in the house for defense—
It’s always kept loaded, in case we might need it;
Unloaded just wouldn’t make sense

The pistol that still had a round in the chamber
The shotgun up high on a shelf
The piece being shown to a friend or a neighbor:
“It’s empty—I checked it myself!”

One by one, they add up, while we mostly don’t notice,
A Newtown or so every day
The solution, we hear, is more good guys with guns,
Because that’s the American way.

“On Availability”… not the availability of guns, but the availability heuristic. Mass killings make the front pages, or the lead story on the nightly news, so those horrible events are what spring to mind when we think about gun issues. The points made (or attempted) by both sides are by now completely predictable, a well choreographed dance of “if only”s–if only a teacher had been armed; if only a bystander had been packing, if only if only if only. As I’ve said before, all the best examples are hypothetical.

But even if we take it as granted that a good guy with a gun could have stopped this or that mass shooting (not at all an assured thing, but let’s run with it), the trick is that mass shootings are not the big problem. The big problem is the relative trickle of gun deaths and injuries, the incidents and accidents in ones and twos, across the country, reported in the local news but not reaching wider audience. These numbers add up–take a look at the tally as reported at Slate Magazine. The graphic is sobering. Or take a look at the Daily Kos feature GunFAIL, for details on each week’s gun accidents.

These accidents and incidents are the inevitable result of large numbers of people with guns. It seems surprising, but really should not be, that we get a pretty substantial number of trained police officers accidentally shooting themselves or others–the simple fact is that they are around guns more often than other people, so even their trained handling results in a lower accident rate per hour of gun exposure, but significantly more gun exposure, and thus they end up on the list.

The rhetoric of gun control dependably focuses on the big headlines. We don’t want another Newtown, or another Columbine, or another this or that. And of course, we don’t. But the solutions that put more guns into teachers’ hands, however well intentioned, are almost certain to add to this far larger source of death and injury.

Bottom-Up Vs Top-Down Morality

The pope is opposed, as of course are the bishops;
The church says they’re living in sin.
But the priest gave his blessing; their parents approve,
And St Christopher calls it a win.

The position, long held by the Catholic Church
Is incredibly bitter to swallow—
But as Gandhi has said, when the people do lead,
The leaders are forced, then, to follow!

Their supporters are Catholics—family and friends—
And God works in mysterious ways
Their trials have drawn the two closer to God…
I just hope he approves of the gays.

A fairly sad (to me, anyway) story from NPR, in which two married (to each other) women are awaiting a Supreme Court decision to determine whether they will be able to stay in the US.

Ok, the first thing is, they are a wonderful couple with a fantastic story, well worth reading. Really. Their families accept them, their clergy have blessed their union… they have twins on the way. It’s really beautiful.

Oh, yeah… Fabiola is Peruvian. If they were heterosexual, this would not be a problem, but since both are women, Kelly cannot sponsor her spouse for permanent residency status. So, they might have to have the twins in Peru.

Ok… at this point, I had begun a verse telling their story. The above is not that verse. See, I was thrown for a bit of a loss with this bit:

“She’s my best friend, she’s the love of my life,” Morales says of Costello. “We knew that we were going to be together forever — always together, we could do anything, and guided by God.”

The women say they are sustained in times of vulnerability, including Morales’ struggle with multiple sclerosis, by family and their strong Catholic faith. They attend Mass weekly at a nearby church, and a priest gave a blessing at their wedding.

They wear matching gold St. Christopher medals on necklaces, and pray together daily.

“We understand that the Catholic Church maybe still has to change a little bit more to love everybody, like people like us,” Morales says. “But we have found support from the Catholic Church. Not everybody is against gay people.”

Costello, who says she has become more devout since meeting Morales, adds: “As my Dad always says, we are all God’s children.”

Bully for them, I say! But… but, damn. Their parent, their families, their local clergy, and of course themselves… are all supportive of their situation, while the larger Catholic Church is not. Nor is the US government, at least not yet.

Once again, it is not the individuals within the church who are the problem. Individuals are human, and as such, make exceptions (well, sometimes. Maybe even often) when they are called for. It’s the institution that is sick.

Against that nagging voice deep within me, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that some day I will see the institution itself dragged kicking and screaming into a position with which a great number of its members are already comfortable. Failing that, I suspect that the institution will die, shedding good people like Kelly and Fabiola, their friends, their family, and their clergy.

The folks at the ground level have got it right. Their own priest blessed their same sex wedding. Their family and friends approve. I suspect that they don’t care that I wish them well, but I do. The higher levels of the Catholic Church, though, disapprove.

From the bottom up, people are people, and they are good. From the top down, the Catholic Church is inhuman, and does not recognize love, nor happiness, nor family.

I can only hope the US government sides with reality and not with the church.

“All Religions Are Made Up (Except Mine)!”

Yes, the Catholic Church is absurd,
And its story the daftest I’ve heard
A tale hard to swallow,
Not easy to follow—
Of course, I believe every word.

Now, it’s not that I’m simply naïve
But a worse church, I cannot conceive
The incompetence, sin,
And corruption within,
Are the reasons I choose to believe!

See, the story that’s clearly the worst,
In the world, is most widely dispersed
Which would surely be odd—
So it’s evidence, God
Must have chosen the Catholics first

My conclusion must not be debated
Though religions are somewhat related
Mine alone must be real,
While the others, I feel
Are just something that mankind created.

They are quite simply far too believable
And their aims, while mundane, are achievable
Mine alone are insane—
Why, they boggle the brain!—
It’s the Truth cos it’s all inconceivable!

So, yeah, on my aggregator a post pops up, from the Catholic channel at Patheos, which actually made me laugh. It begins with a bit of special pleading:

The other day I tweeted a wisecrack: “If a Protestant says religion is just a man made institution, agree with him. His religion is a man made institution. The tweet elicited a reply from an atheist saying, “All religions are man made. Otherwise, why are there so many of them?”
It raises a good question. To answer it we first have to distinguish between the phenomenon of religion as it exists across the span of human history–and particular religions and then individual denominations. Are they all man made?

Turns out, the author argues, that pretty much all religions appear man-made. We seem to have a natural tendency to believe–from animism to polytheism to monotheism… But then, Christianity adds (uniquely, the author claims) Special Revelation–not just natural revelation, the evidence of gods found in the natural world, but Special Revelation, where God Himself reveals Himself. (Biology, chemistry, and physics can render natural revelation obsolete; it takes psychology to call Special Revelation into question. How one distinguishes Special Revelation from hallucination and delusion is never quite specified.)

What shall we do then, about the different Christian denominations? The fact of the matter is that none of them claim to be part of God’s revelation. My quip about the Protestants is correct, and they would agree. The individual churches are man made institutions. There is only one church that claims otherwise: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church–comprised of both Eastern Orthodoxy, the Eastern Rite Churches and all other groups in full communion with the successor of Peter.

Here is the astounding claim of the Catholic Church: that we really do believe not only that God has revealed himself within the history of the Jewish people, and that this revelation culminates in the person of Jesus Christ, but we also believe that Jesus Christ founded a church on the rock that is Peter, and that he handed to Peter his own authority to teach the truth, forgive sins and take authority over evil. Furthermore, that this authority lives in the church today and that Peter’s successor is called Francis and that he lives just a few hundred yards from the site of Peter’s death and burial two thousand years ago.

Did we make it up? I contend that the claim is too audacious to have been made up. If I were going to make up a religion I would devise one that was easier to swallow. Nevertheless, the audacious claim is supported by history and by the existence and strength today of the Catholic Church. When you really know the Catholic Church and the human incompetence, sin, corruption and weakness within her you must conclude with many observers that she must be inspired and upheld by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing else can explain her continued existence.

Sorry for the lengthy quote, but you needed the full flavor of the argument. It’s a dusty old argument, sometimes phrased in Latin, certum est, quia impossibile (I turned it into a campfire song, here). It’s a wonderful defense mechanism–the more absurd it is, the more you know it is true. Pedophile priests are, absurdly, part of what convinces the author that Catholicism is the one true religion.

Why, to deny it would be absurd!

So absurd, it must be true.

National Doughnut Day, 2013

Let us raise our voice in chorus
For that deep-fried, doughy torus
Though it’s not the best thing for us
It’s a super special treat
Found in bakeries or delis,
Dipped in sugars, filled with jellies,
We can stuff them in our bellies
Just as fast as we can eat

And it’s Donuts, Donuts, Donuts, and Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!
So let’s all go out and go nuts, saying Happy Donut Day!

Surely, nothing could be duller
Than a day without a cruller
In that toasted-almond color
So you know it’s cooked just right
I love fritters and berliners
Some say Boston Cremes are winners
Cider donuts for beginners
So you’re hooked at just one bite!

And it’s Donuts, Donuts, Donuts, and Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!
So let’s all go out and go nuts, saying Happy Donut Day!

In the US, the first Friday in June is, as you all know, National Doughnut Day (or National Donut Day), and has been since 1938 (I would never have guessed it’s that old!). ABCNews reports that free donuts (or doughnuts) are available at Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Hortons, and more. Sadly, the best donut in the known universe (as determined by me, but objectively true nonetheless) is no longer being made. It was the apple fritter (don’t complain that it is not technically a donut–it is the perfection that every donut would want to be if were able to choose) made by a small bakery one town over from Cuttletown. I lived next door to that bakery 27 years ago, and never tired of those fritters. We moved away, and when I went back to visit over a decade later, they had discontinued their fritters! Customers just weren’t buying deep-fried pastries, so they got rid of the equipment (gasp!) and the recipe (horror!).

So, you can have your National Donut Day (or National Doughnut Day); for me, it is a day of mourning, for what was, for its time in the universe, the best possible argument for Platonic Ideals.

(Yes, the verse is a re-run; you aren’t losing your mind.) (well, maybe)

GOP Congressmen Debate Atheist Chaplaincy, Display Incredible Ignorance

Shockingly, Mockingly,
Ignorant congressmen
Pandered to Christians, and
Put on a show;

“Atheist chaplains? That’s
Members then voted
Resoundingly, “NO!”

Via the huffpo, video of the House Armed Services Committee, debating an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment was quite simple:

Sec. 502. Inclusion in the Chaplain Corps of Persons Available to provide guidance and counsel to members of the armed forces who are atheist, agnostic, or belong to no organized faith group.
The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the appointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist.

But not quite as simple as the Republican members of the committee. The video is brief, but you’ll want to watch to the end, for the loud and self-satisfied chorus of “no!”

Why Can’t You Just Meet Me Halfway?

I love to start fires; it’s just what I do—
I’ve started them all over town—
But recently, folks have begun to complain,
And they’re working on shutting me down.

I’m just having fun, but they say that it’s wrong;
I’m a danger, or that’s what they say
I want lots of fires; they’re screaming for none:
Why can’t they just meet me half way?

I’ve asked them to sit and negotiate terms
But they’ll call me “extremist”, I’ll bet—
They’re ranting and raving; I’m asking politely…
Just how many fires can I set?

Cuttlecap tip to Dana, under the radar.

Predictable Reaction To “Atheist Monument”

A Decalogue carved out of granite began it;
Jehovah’s commandments on six tons of stone
An atheist group then complained; they maintained
The establishment clause says it can’t sit alone
The lawyers advised “don’t take chances; your stance is
‘If one is allowed, well then, so are the rest’.”
So, while maybe it wasn’t their druthers, now others
Can join them, with multiple viewpoints expressed.

The atheists’ bench is the first one, the cursed one,
Reminding the county that godless exist—
That Florida’s not monolithically mythic;
That Christians don’t make up the whole of the list.
I’m hoping the Hindus will bring ‘em a lingam,
A huge granite phallus to add to the mix
So when councilmen pass, they will find a reminder
That some think the council are acting like dicks.

I read about the monument a couple of days ago, but of course the monument itself isn’t anything exciting to write about. It’s the reaction to the monument that gets fun. Mano predicted this yesterday, as reactions started to trickle in. Today, my aggregator is full of various Christian reactions to the bench.

Good for them. I think it’s a perfect monument for atheists. It says it all. Atheism – it’s where asses go.

(don’t skip the comments there. You will know they are Christians by their love. Oh! One of the comments makes the point that “Every public square without a Christmas Crib at Christmas is a monument to atheism.” which reminded me of this one from a while ago.)

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to have opposing viewpoints like this,” [Mat Staver of Liberty Council] says. “Certainly, Thomas Jefferson and Madelyn Murray O’Hair need not be opposing the 10 Commandments. In fact, Thomas Jefferson would be appalled that his writings would be used to oppose the 10 Commandments, which are the very basis of the rule of law.”

Which is why the first 4 commandments are explicitly overruled by the first amendment.

And while Fox News’s Tucker Carlson predicts (or urges) vandalism:

“I have a feeling that bench will be a magnet for graffiti,” Carlson said on this past weekend’s “Fox & Friends,” when discussing the planned atheist memorial.
“Just a guess,” Carlson added.

…at the same site, at least some see what “public free-speech forum” actually means:

Ken Weaver, a member of the Starke, Fla.-based group Community Men’s Fellowship, which originally erected the Ten Commandments monument at Bradford County Courthouse, previously told CP that he believes the American Atheists “has the same freedoms of expression as those of any other citizen or group.”

Of course, as of this writing, the only comment at that particular site is a simple “I concur Tucker”.

At the risk of repeating myself, you will know they are Christians by their love.

Angel’s Devils; or, If You Can’t Believe A Demon, Who Can You Believe?

The man’s name was Angel; for fourteen long years
He’s been home to some demons, or so it appears;
The exorcists tried to remove them, but nope—
And they even (the demons) resisted the pope.

They must have some purpose, or something to say;
For so many years, treating Angel this way
The Vatican exorcist (yes, that’s a thing)
Has deciphered the message he’s claiming they bring:

The devils inhabiting poor Angel’s bod
Are delivering—really—a message from God
The last fourteen years are a warning from heaven
Regarding a law passed in 2007.

When Mexico City made legal abortion
God’s go-to response is a form of extortion
Possession, of course, is a cruel thing to do
But the exorcist told us—it has to be true

So please, heed the demons, they’re really God’s voice,
The message is clear—deprive women of choice!
(If you’re looking for meaning, continue your search:
They don’t have to make sense—they’re the catholic church)

I was wrong about the pope’s exorcism business. The kid was clearly not mentally ill, and not a kid. He’s a 43 year old father of 2, and he’s been possessed by demons since 1999. No, really. (Hey, that’s the Christian Post, so you can trust it.) 30 exorcism attempts, by 10 different exorcists (and to think, before that Linda Blair movie came out, the last exorcist school was about to close!), and Angel V. was still possessed.

Must be a reason. Something important enough that the God team loses 30 matches in a row. Well, the Vatican chief exorcist figured it out:

Chief Vatican exorcist, Amorth, argues that Angel is undoubtedly possessed but his possession comes with a message from God on Mexico’s abortion laws.
“Not only is he possessed, but the devil who lives in him finds himself obliged by God to transmit a message,” said Amorth.
“Angel is a good man. He has been chosen by the Lord to give a message to the Mexican clergy and to tell the bishops that they have to do an act of reparation for the law on abortion that was approved in Mexico City in 2007, which was an insult to the Virgin,” said Amorth. “Until they . . . do this, Angel will not be liberated.”

Extortion. Or, more charitably, incompetence.

“It’s Not A Hate Thing”

They say, “It’s not a hate thing, it’s a moral stance we take”
But the things they do betray their lie with every move they make
When your words don’t match your actions, it will come as no surprise
That the people who observe you will conclude you’re telling lies.

It’s a simple observation; you may label it a fact
When your words and actions disagree, the truth is how you act
When you say you love the sinner, but you still discriminate
We conclude that you’re a liar; we conclude that this is hate.

So the Baptists plan their exodus, while still proclaiming love
It’s their duty to be honest, yes, but push has come to shove
Many Christian groups are staying; Baptist groups are running scared
And they’re going to have to tell some lies, for which they’ll be prepared

You can trust them to be bigots; they are loyal to their church;
They are helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind of in a lurch;
They’re obedient and cheerful; they are thrifty, brave, and clean,
But the problem is, they’re reverent, and that’s what makes them mean.

They say, “It’s not a hate thing, it’s a moral stance we take”
But the things they do betray their lie with every move they make
When your words don’t match your actions, it will come as no surprise
That the people who observe you will conclude you’re telling lies.

With the inclusion of openly gay scouts, the Boy Scouts of America can expect a mass exodus of Southern Baptist affiliated groups. I know, win-win, right? Oh, wait, it’s a bad thing because reasons. Or probably, because money. But for the Baptists, it’s a simple matter of doing the [far]right thing:

“God’s word explicitly says homosexuality is a choice, a sin,” said Reed, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

So when the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift its ban on openly gay youths on May 24, Reed said the church had no choice but to cut its charter with Troop 542.

“It’s not a hate thing here,” Reed told CNN affiliate Fox 16. “It’s a moral stance we must take as a Southern Baptist church.”

and God’s will is crystal clear on this matter. The Baptist groups (making up approximately 5% of total BSA units–it is unclear if only Southern Baptists are leaving, and it is unclear what percentage of Baptist groups in the BSA are Southern Baptist) oppose the national changes because God says to.

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more Scout units than any other faith, all endorsed the change.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which is run with oversight from a bishop, said Thursday that allowing gay youths in the Scouts does not conflict with church teaching. Each bishop will decide whether or not to allow churches in his diocese to charter Scout units, the committee added.

So maybe God is a little iffy on the subject. (as an aside, I did read in the comments to the linked article, the old chestnut about how science has had to change its stance so many times over the centuries, while the church has remained a rock. If the church ever was a rock, it has fragmented into tens of thousands of fragments over time, each one claiming to be the original and unchanging rock. One church may oppose and protest, say, same sex marriage, while the church across the street happily embraces and conducts such marriages.) God’s fickle like that.

But hey, the Scout Law requires scouts to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent”… not necessarily honest. Honesty is implied in “morally straight” (part of the scout oath); so long as the Baptists are interpreting that as “not morally gay”, they are free to lie about their motives.

Cos the truth is, it’s a hate thing.

Belief In Satan Leads To Terrible Things… In Priests.

It isn’t just God that believers believe in—
There are angels and demons as well;
But I don’t really think there’s a Devil at all
So I guess I’ll be heading for Hell

There’s a priest who believes that he’s figured us out;
Though his logic’s a little bit odd;
Not believing in Satan (he thinks) is the key
More than just not believing in God

Cos Satan’s a gateway, it seems, to belief
Or a gatekeeper, keeping folks in
Instead of ourselves, it’s the Devil to blame—
The personification of sin

But if there’s no Devil, no angels, no God,
No leprechauns, pixies, or elves,
No witches or wizards with magic to use
Then we’ll have to get by… by ourselves.

Yeah, so, this verse was just an excuse. The part of the story that amused me is what the verse covers–a curious bit of logic from a father Gabriele Amorth:

…one of the main causes of today’s atheism is that people don’t believe in the Devil any more. But Jesus said: ‘Who is not with me is with Satan.’ If you don’t believe in Satan, Satan has got you in his pocket.

So, yeah. Not believing in Satan is a gateway drug to not believing in God. Which, given how many times I’ve heard that atheists worship Satan by definition, kinda makes me think they aren’t reading the same playbook.

But you might have noticed the ellipsis at the beginning of that quote. Yup, I cut off something important, just a few words, but the devil (heh) is in the details, as always. See, the beginning of that sentence goes “The Pope’s exorcism is a splendid sign because…” Amorth is making the claim that the pope actually performed an exorcism (there is a video of the encounter at the link). Francis was giving blessings after a pentecost mass, and can be seen laying hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair.

So…. kid in a wheelchair. Obviously time for prayer. Cos A) the kid might be possessed, rather than, say, suffer from epilepsy, or B) even if that’s not the case, his condition is likely a punishment from God for some sinful nature. Either way, the kid needs prayer. And yes, epilepsy and demonic possession go hand in hand. Here, from the point of view of someone with epilepsy… and here, from a slightly different perspective.

But the problem is not ignorance among priests, eager to have a practical purpose in life–no, the problem is too many possessed people. Not medical conditions, not stigmatization, not misunderstanding, not marginalization, not some mundane problem like that, that people need to do the work of fixing… no, it’s 2013–clearly the cause is demons in your soul. Priests need the proper education! Not in science, medicine, skepticism, and inclusiveness, but in casting out demons.

What could go wrong?