The Muppets Take The Mall!

The National Mall, that is–the Muppets are moving to the Smithsonian! (Great pics and story at link)

*******

Scooter: Places, everyone! Five minutes till curtain!

Fozzie Bear: Has anyone seen my hat?

Miss Piggie: Now, where did that Hope Diamond go? I was wearing it just a minute ago…

Gathering throng outside:
It’s time to buy our tickets
It’s time to shout “hooray”
It’s time to go and visit
All the Muppets on display!

Miss Piggy:
It’s time to wear the diamond
If only for today

Scooter:
It’s time to raise the curtain
On the Muppets on display!

Kermit (who has lived at the museum since 1994):
Our national museum
Is where they’ll settle down
You know you want to see ‘em
Whenever you’re in town

Miss Piggy:
It’s time to see my Kermie

Kermit:
I don’t know what to say

Scooter:
It’s time to get things started

Gathering throng:
Why don’t you get things started?

Kermit, others joining in:
It’s time to get things started
On the most sensational
Educational
Generational
Muppetational
Come and see the Muppets on display!

Miss Piggy, wearing the Hope Diamond. Smithsonian photo, by Cade Martin.

Cranston’s New Banner

The sign on the wall reads “No Christians Allowed”—
… Except for the fact that it doesn’t.
There’s a banner in Cranston, replacing the prayer—
The prayer that the Christians said wasn’t.

No “Heavenly Father”, no “Prayer”, no “Amen”
Just a pledge of good will and respect.
So it’s either much better the way that it is…
Or the banner the atheist wrecked.

Thus begins a new chapter; it’s time to move on
And the people are very excited
So the threw a small party, to show they were healed…
But Jessica wasn’t invited.

This verse isn’t so much about the new Cranston banner (which it actually is about) as it is about the reaction to this banner at The Blaze (which is quite different from the reaction at The Friendly Atheist).

Comments at the Blaze have a familiar ring to them–people are sick of God being taken out of our Judeo-Christian society; we are encouraged to embrace all diversity… except Christians; Jessica’s success was really and actually because God was on her side (I am not making that up). Christians should complain that the current banner offends them; Jessica is pondscum (sic); the judge misrepresented the first amendment, cos Congress didn’t put this banner up… It’s all there.

For the backstory on Cranston, here are the cliff notes.

One member of the class of 1963 (donors of both the original and the new banner), Janice Bertino, is quoted: “The community is healed. There is no more controversy.”

Let’s hope she’s right.

Let’s hope they don’t read The Blaze.

Time To Bring Back Public Whippings! (Or, Maybe, Not)

We’re pampering our prisoners
We’re treating them like guests
Instead of just ignoring them
We honor their requests

Free food, a bed, and exercise,
We cater to their needs
When what they’ve earned is punishment
It’s harshness that succeeds

No coddling them with training,
Cos they’ll never get a job
No need for education,
Cos a slob remains a slob

No TV time, no DVDs,
No books upon the shelves
These thugs want entertainment?
Let them work it out themselves

Let’s lock them in a tiny cell
And throw away the key
Unless it hurts, it really isn’t
Punishment, to me

We’ll show them, in the clearest terms,
What vengeance is about…
I wonder how they’ll thank us
When it’s time to let them out

You’ve probably all heard by now, Ariel Castro was found dead, having apparently hanged himself. As the poster child for horrible and criminal behavior, you’ll have to search a ways before you’ll find anyone mourning his death. Well, aside from those wishing he was still alive so that he could be dying more slowly; those voices are easy to hear.

And even at NPR, where accusations of liberal bias (in reporting and in commenting) are commonplace, the commenters are currently bemoaning the conditions of our prisons, arguing that they need to be harsher, more punishing, so that they do the job they were supposed to do and prevent crime rehabilitate offenders punish evildoers.

These commenters are wrong. You want the most successful prisons, in terms of low recidivism rates, low operating cost, and successful integration of inmates into society when their sentences are up? Let’s compare the US and Norway.

But of course, those are horrible measures of prisoner effectiveness if the real goal of a prison is to assign moral responsibility and punish wicked people. (Or to make money.) I have asked audiences which hypothetical they would choose, a simple procedure that would make certain a criminal would never commit a crime again, and would instead be a productive member of society, or a procedure that would punish that criminal harshly, with no effect on future behavior. A strong majority go for the punishment. (BTW, a strong case can be made that this is a holdover from religious thinking during the Reformation–the blossoming of the prescientific notion of freely chosen, morally culpable behavior. We can’t prevent it, cos it’s freely chosen, but we can and should punish the morally responsible actor, regardless of whether that punishment decreases crime.)

And with Ariel Castro as the poster child, there will be no one, or very few, arguing that our prisons are already too harsh for society’s good, that an overhaul of the system would be hugely beneficial (especially for non-privileged groups). Differential arrests, convictions, and sentences by race? No time for that, there’s a monster in Cleveland who deserves harsher punishment! We would rather punish after the fact than make our streets safer before. We would rather pay for prisons than schools and scholarships. We would rather blame a handful of criminals after the fact, than our own failure to improve society beforehand.

It’s so much easier.

“Maybe Now She Can Do Something *Useful*…”

There’s sharks, and cramps, and jellyfish,
And always, unknown factors
Diana beat them all this time
But still has her detractors
They comment on the internet
Belittling her feat
The brightest, smoothest commenters
You’d ever care to meet.
It’s not that they’re the jealous sorts
You notice now and then
It’s just that—she’s a woman,
And these commenters are men
She’s not allowed to show them up,
Achieving something cool—
They’re guys, and it’s the internet…
It’s almost like a rule.

I love watching someone do something I can’t. Whether it is the Olympics, or surgery, or car repair, photography, interviewing, music, dance… or Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida. It really was astonishing to see–in a world where there is literally a queue of people lined up to summit Mount Everest each year, Nyad is the first, and currently the only, to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage or flippers (each of which makes a huge difference in terms of moving water). It is an incredible feat.

And the comments online are predictably horrid. This was a useless waste of time and effort, it was a publicity stunt done for high speakers fees, it was actually something so easy, because of the huge support team, and it’s only a first because no one else wanted to do it. Oh, yeah, and she’s fat and ugly. And they were everywhere I looked. CNN. Fox. Even NPR. (The comment quoted in my title has, sadly fortunately, since been deleted.)

I suppose the good news is, anyone can see what’s going on. Haters are hating, engaging in a concerted effort to belittle the less privileged (in this case, a woman) from the safety of a keyboard. If jellyfish, sharks, dehydration, and exhaustion didn’t stop Nyad, I don’t think internet comments are going to faze her in the slightest.

Here’s to you, Diana Nyad! Congratulations! Well done!

Sorry, California, But You Have To Pay The Atheist *Something*.

A godless drug offender who was serving his parole
Was remanded to a program where they tried to save his soul
He denies a god exists—a “higher power” is their phrase—
So they threw him back in prison for another hundred days
Now, this differential treatment was unlawful (also, rude)
So the godless drug offender (and his lawyer, likely) sued.

The state had caused him injury, the judge could not deny
100 days in prison cos he wouldn’t tell a lie
The atheist could not deny, the bible isn’t buyable,
And since California locked him up, the state was clearly liable
A convicted drug offender, he was clearly no one’s hero,
When the judge awarded damages—the jury added, “zero”.

Now the Circuit Court has spoken, with the facts beyond dispute;
Sent the case back to a jury, with the warning “don’t get cute”

So, yeah, jury, you may not like the fact that an atheist convicted drug offender sued the state (of California) because they did not have a drug treatment program that did not require him to believe in a god… but seriously, the man was thrown back in prison for 100 days because he wouldn’t say he believed in a higher power, and this is worth nothing?

SAN FRANCISCO — California should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison after he resisted participating in a religious-based drug treatment program, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.

What was the case about?

After Hazle served a prison term, California ordered him to spend 90 days in a residential 12-step program. Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.

Staff at the state-required treatment center reported that Hazle was disruptive “in a congenial way.” The state revoked his parole and put him back in prison for 100 days. He sued.

A Sacramento federal judge determined that Hazle had clearly suffered a violation of his constitutional rights and ordered a jury to assess monetary damages. The jury awarded zero damages.

100 days in prison, that any religious believer (or non-believer willing to lie) would not have had to suffer. But hey, he was on parole. A drug offender. An atheist. The judge asked for a reasonable damage amount, and the jury stepped up and said “nothing.” That was back in 2010 (the initial sentence was in 2007)

“Given the indisputable fact of actual injury resulting from Hazle’s unconstitutional imprisonment, and the district judge’s finding that the state defendants were liable for that injury, an award of compensatory damages was mandatory,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the panel.

The court said another jury must be convened to determine Hazle’s compensation.

The comments at the story are actually not terrible, too, if you go for that sort of thing.

Edit–there is also the actual court decision here (thanks, screechymonkey), which is well worth reading.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

Very Much OK

…Oklahoma, that is.

No time for a big post, but I wanted to direct you to a very nice newspaper piece from the Oklahoma Gazette: Atheism increasingly finds a home in the Bible Belt.

Oklahoma is home to more than 6,500 churches. It’s also home to one of the largest atheist meet-up groups in the U.S.

That latter fact might seem incongruous in a state often characterized as the buckle of the Bible Belt. But some experts suggest the large numbers of self-described atheists aren’t so surprising.

“I am a native Oklahoman, and I have found that while Oklahoma is a conservative state with a strong religious presence, it is a state that has a very fierce independent spirit,” said Charles A. Kimball, director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “There’s a lot of respect for diversity, and that includes religious diversity, in this state.”

What follows is a thorough and very positive report on the state of atheists in the state of Oklahoma (with a nod to the rest of the country as well). Worth a read.

Ah, So *That’s* Where The Fat Went!

A rack of ribs; a leg of lamb;
A turkey roast; a marbled ham;
We used to cut the fat off, just to eat it!
The drippings from the roasting pan
We use for gravy, quite by plan—
For flavor, you can’t beat it.

But now, our culture’s seen a change
And eating fat is more than strange
When folks are on a diet
Though sugar may be worse by far
Fat gets the blame, so people are
Reluctant, now, to try it

In vain attempts to be more svelte,
The fat we hate, we simply melt
And pour it down the sink
Where does it go? It goes “away”
And more than that, we cannot say
Because we do not think.

The fat collected as we cook?
It’s down the drain, without a look;
Our thoughts end with our meals
But in the sewers, fat gets cold;
Beneath our streets, we now are told
It naturally congeals

A city’s worth of melted lard
Starts cooling down and turning hard
We know what comes of that:
Stalagmites of a lipid sort,
And one, we hear by last report,
That’s fifteen tonnes of fat

Of course, there’s much that we can do
To help prevent these bergs of goo,
The sewer gods explain:
It’s time for people to begin
When cutting fat, to toss it in
The bin, not down the drain!

A Thames Water press release has a very practical warning, illustrated by an extraordinary discovery. The warning? Don’t pour melted fat down your drain (they make this plea each year during the holiday season, I hear, when so many families simultaneously dump the fat from a roast turkey, ham, or yak, down the drain), because it will congeal and clog your pipes.

The discovery? A fifteen ton tonne “fatberg” (pic at the link–worth seeing):

“Given we’ve got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we’ve encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history.
“The sewer was almost completely clogged with over 15 tonnes of fat. If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.
“It was so big it damaged the sewer and repairs will take up to six weeks.

Nearby residents were unable to flush their toilets, and the investigation led to the fatberg’s discovery.

Remind me, next Thanksgiving, to thank the people whose job it is to go down into the sewers in such cases of emergency. 15 tons of rancid fat is, frankly, nasty, but when the system is working perfectly these people are going down into the sewers to check on a city’s worth of waste.

So consider this a public service announcement: Next time you cut the fat from your dinner, dispose of it in the trash, not down the drain. Or do what I do, and cook with it, eat it eagerly, and enjoy it immensely.

(Cuttlecap tip to Ed Yong, via twitter.)

The Devil Went To Concord

The Devil went to Concord;
He was there to raise some hell
With Satanic clothes and music
And with drugs and porn to sell
He would fill young hearts with evil things
Like envy, lust, and hate…
He was climbing up the High School steps
When something whispered, “Wait!”

A mom was in the doorway,
Praying loudly, arms outstretched—
Asking Jesus Christ’s protection
Which the students thought farfetched
What an antiquated notion—
It’s as obsolete as sin
But with Jesus in the doorway
Surely Satan can’t come in

That’s the way some people saw it
And they loved the mother’s zeal
If the school had no objections,
Then perhaps the tale was real
But some others in the district
Find the spectacle quite odd,
Cos the Devil’s merely fictional,
And so, in fact, is God

In a conflict of religious views
A school can’t take one side
So one faith can’t be promoted
And, of course, can’t be denied
Treating everybody equally
Is what it’s all about…
So the law’s the law in Concord
And the praying mom is out.

The full story, relatively neutrally reported, at the Union Leader. Of course, the misLeader is notoriously right-wing, so you have to look at the comments. It’s actually kind of fun, because New Hampshire has a mix of both types of conservative–the social conservatives who support the praying mom, and the (small L) libertarian conservatives who support the constitution.

The Concord Monitor’s editorial, agreeing that the school was right to end the praying. Fewer comments here, of course–a smaller paper–but the first one is the one that inspired today’s verse.

It’s Just A Bloody Cracker!

The flesh of our savior—
A wafer, or host
Is a part of the Eucharist rites
And a miracle happens
Or so goes the boast
With each of the sav(i)ory bites

No longer a cracker,
It’s turned into flesh
(and the wine’s turned to blood, as you know)
Not rotted and nasty
But perfectly fresh
And we gobble it down, even so!

Some call it symbolic,
But we know it’s real—
It’s a truth that cannot be ignored
And once in a while
The blood will congeal
So we’re sure we’re consuming our Lord!

Via Doubtful News, a miracle! A communion wafer is apparently bleeding. I forget–is it believers or atheists who insist on literal interpretations of scripture, and of transubstantiation, and such?

I expect PZ to face charges, now that the wafer has so definitively been shown to be Jesus Himself.