On Terry Pratchett and Escape Routes

This news brought tears to my eyes, because I adore Terry Pratchett and I never ever want the world to be without him:

Three and a half years ago, Terry Pratchett, the beloved author of the Discworld series, announced that he has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Now he’s made an even more startling announcement.

Pratchett, who has campaigned in his native United Kingdom for the right of assisted suicide, has begun the formal process of assisted suicide in Switzerland, one of the few countries in the world to legalize euthanasia. Specifically, this would take place at Dignitas, a clinic that provides qualified doctors and nurses to assist with the patients’ suicides. 

Those of us who read Eric MacDonald’s beautiful blog know Dignitas.  It’s an amazing place, and I’m glad it’s there.  Because people need escape routes.

Which one of us wants to live on beyond hope?  Mind gone, life destroyed beyond recovery, each day one more endless slog of suffering and humiliation?  Very few of us, I’d bet.

And because of Switzerland’s compassionate laws and clinics like Dignitas, Terry Pratchett doesn’t have to.

Does the news he’s planning on ending his life shock and sadden me?  Of course it does.  I’ll miss him terribly.  He’s changed my life in so many ways, given me so many precious memories curled up with a Discworld book.  It hurts to lose him, hurts to know that the series will end far too soon, and that I won’t have a chance to ever shake his hand and say a heartfelt “Thank you.”  But, people, he has Alzheimer’s.  It’s already mauled his ability to write, and it will progress to the point where he can’t write at all.  It will steal his mind away, leaving a shell, and perhaps just enough awareness to know what’s happening.

I am a writer.  I have a damned good imagination, but I can’t imagine many things worse.

And how much worse is it when there’s no way out, no way to choose the moment, no way to cut out those awful bits at the end and go out on a high note?  To live in fear that one day, you’ll wake up and have nearly nothing of you left and know that it will only get worse and yet be forced to live through that nightmare for an unknown length of time?  I can’t speak for Terry, but I can speak for myself: that fear would consume me.  It would poison all the good moments left.  Much better to know there’s an escape route.  Much easier to live those last good days fully and happily when there’s an exit available.  Even if I can’t bring myself to walk through that door – and really, until I’ve got my hand on the handle, how can I know if I’ll have the emotional strength to turn it? – knowing it’s there would be an enormous comfort.

I’ve often said we treat our pets better than people.  We don’t let them linger on in horrible pain, not if we’re good and strong people who can do right by them.  I’ve made more than one trip to the vet with a beloved pet when there was no hope of any more good days, or too few to justify all the bad ones.  I’ve held them as they died.  And it’s hard.  It’s so hard.  But it’s the right thing to do.

Why shouldn’t I be able to do that for my mother, who lives in dread of suffering and dying like her own mother did, mind gone and only a confused, agonized shell lingering on?  Why shouldn’t I be able to choose people to do the same for me?

People have this knee-jerk horror at the idea of someone taking their own life.  They seem to believe no one should have that choice, and they give reasons.  Some, I even agree with.  This isn’t a decision that should ever be made lightly: it needs to be understood that it’s irreversible, and that some things are worth living through for a bit to see if they get better, because they so often do.  This isn’t a decision that should ever be forced on a person.  But there are so many ways to ensure those things are suitably addressed, and they shouldn’t stop us from allowing people who want it an escape route.

As for the other reasons, such as it’s God’s choice and not ours – well, those arguments are invalid.  So are the slippery slope arguments used as camouflage for the religious ones.  We’re not going to see grandmas and grandpas bundled off wholesale just because assisted suicide is legal.  There may be isolated incidents.  You know what?  There already are, and always will be, and demanding a perfect system with no errors is just another way of ensuring the escape route stays blocked off for everyone forever.  So fuck that.

I hope, once those papers are signed, Terry Pratchett can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with living a lot more life before the time comes.  I hope we don’t lose him so soon.  But at least he’s got the escape route open.  No matter when he chooses to go, at least it’s his choice, not the disease and not society.  He won’t be trapped with no way out.

It’s time other people got to have that same choice.

(Eric MacDonald on Pratchett and the Choosing to Die program is well worth reading.)

Maryam Namazie on the Islamic Inquisition

I’m sending you all away.  For one thing, I’m busy and woefully short of advance posts.  But most importantly, there’s something I think you need to read.

It’s Maryam Namazie’s speech at the World Atheist Conference.  You really should read it in its entirety.  But I’ll put an excerpt here, because I believe this bit needs to be understood clearly by all of us:

Nowhere is opposition greater against Islamism than in countries under Islamic rule.
Condemning Islamism and Islam is not a question of judging all Muslims and equating them with terrorists.
There is a distinction between Islam as a belief system and Islamism as a political movement on the one hand and real live human beings on the other. Neither the far-Right nor the pro-Islamist Left seem to see this distinction.
Both are intrinsically racist. The pro-Islamist Left (and many liberals) imply that people are one and the same with the Islamic states and movement that are repressing them. The far-Right blames all immigrants and Muslims for the crimes of Islamism.
[It is important to note here that Islamism was actually brought to centre stage during the Cold War as part of US foreign policy in order to create a ‘green’ Islamic belt surrounding the Soviet Union and not concocted in some immigrant’s kitchen in London; moreover many of the Islamists in Britain are actually British-born thanks to the government’s policies of multiculturalism and appeasement.]
Both the far-Right and pro-Islamist Left purport that Islamism is people’s culture and that they actually deserve no better, imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.
Their politics ignores the distinction between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same. It denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ and justifies the suppression of rights, freedoms and equality for the ‘other.’
Civil rights, freedom and equality, secularism, modernism, are universal concepts that have been fought for by progressive social movements and the working class in various countries.
As a result of such politics, concepts such as rights, equality, respect and tolerance, which were initially raised vis-à-vis the individual, are now more and more applicable to culture and religion and often take precedence over real live human beings.
Moreover, the social inclusion of people into society has come to solely mean the inclusion of their beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas (read Islamism’s beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas) and nothing more.

The distinction between humans and their beliefs and regressive political movements is of crucial significance here.

It is the human being who is meant to be equal not his or her beliefs. It is the human being who is worthy of the highest respect and rights not his or her beliefs or those imputed on them.
It is the human being who is sacred not beliefs or religion.

The problem is that religion sees things the other way around.

And she quotes from Mansoor Hekmat at the end:

“Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings…”  (Mansoor Hekmat, Islam and De-Islamisation,January 1999)

Remember these things, because they’re important.  You need to remember them when charges of racism and cultural imperialism get thrown your way by people who would prefer you not criticize their faith.  Do not let people stop the conversation.

Got that?  Good.  Now go finish the speech.

Local Geology Kicks Project’s Arse

Confession: this post is mostly an excuse to post my super-awesome front loader and dump truck photo:

Check out the dirt-dumping action!

How awesome is that?  I’ve never had so much fun photographing a dump truck before.  Comes to that, I don’t think I’ve ever photographed a dump truck before.  But when Cujo and I were out walkies, looking for nice cherry blossoms, we passed by the site of this mysterious building project that’s been going on for half of forever.  Usually, it’s hidden behind walls, but the wall has come down, and the whole thing is revealed!  Also, there’s a sign we never noticed before:

Sooper-seekrit projeckt revealed!  Image credit Cujo.

Ah-ha!  ‘Tis a wastewater treatment facility.  And if you’ll direct your attention to the lower left of the photo, you’ll see there’s this tunnel they’re excavating that goes out to the Sound.  This tunnel is where the problems begin.

Cujo sent me this article in the Seattle Times that shows what happens when you drive a tunnel through gobs and oodles of glacial sediments: sinkholes.  And how.  Check this out:

Kenmore Sinkhole, image credit and copyright TunnelTalk

Allow me to direct your attention to a paragraph in the article describing that incident, from which the above photo was filched:

Neither the owner nor the contractor would discuss the focus of their investigations, but these will likely look at several possible causes, including the experience of the slurry machine operator with the closed slurry system making it difficult to judge the amount of material being excavated during a shove. Another possible cause might be the presence of a large boulder in the face that stalled penetration without slowing extraction of material and caused over-excavation. A third possibility is the meeting of high artesian water pressure and its influence on the excavation cycle. [emphasis added]

All of you geotypes are probably shouting, “Glacial erratic!” about now.  Seattle’s got lots, random boulders dropped by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet during its stay.  According to the articles I found, the tunnel-boring machine’s been encountering quite a bit of sandy soil, which it sometimes proceeds to remove too much of.  Not to mention running in to boulders.  Tunneling through all of that glacial outwash, till, and random erractics has got to be an absolute nightmare, and goes a long way toward explaining why the project’s run over on both time and money. 

TunnelTalk has a nice, simplified geologic cross-section showing what the excavators are dealing with here:

Image courtesy and copyright TunnelTalk

You’ll notice there’s not much clay it gets a chance to run through.  That means it’s grinding itself up against sand and gravel.  According to TunnelTalk, this means more frequent cutter replacements – only trying to get down there to replace a cutter when you’re not in a nice, stable bit of clay is difficult.  And then there’s the propensity for sinkholes.

This is something ordinary folk don’t usually think about when contemplating infrastructure, when they contemplate it at all.  But geology’s critical when it comes to deciding where and how you’re going to dig your tunnels things like wastewater lines.  We don’t have a lot of good choices here.  The bedrock’s down too deep in most places, the water table’s high, and glacial deposits are difficult to deal with.  Planners need to understand and deal with those issues so that the needs of the metropolis can be served.  And this is a good dry run for the gargantuan tunnel they want to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with: without this, they may not have been alerted to the true scope of the problems they’re going to face in sending a highway underground.

Oh, Seattle!  You are beautiful, but when it comes to infrastructure, you’re a right pain in the arse.

Stuff Comes from Somewhere

Back before I distracted by the shiny new car and purchasing of same, our own George W. had a post up that really forced some thinking.  And it’s all because he was up at 4 in the morning thinking about bolts:

Where’s the nickel (which plates the bolt) mined? What’s the state of mine-safety technology? Do mining companies pay lobbyists to keep the laws lax? Or more likely, does the manufacturer just buy the nickel salts for plating from some third-world country where the government doesn’t protect the workers or the rivers or the children who live along them? Is that why the bolts are so cheap? What’s the external cost of the carbon output from manufacturing the bolt? Maybe that’s the reason I saved the bolt that was left over from a project of years ago.  Or maybe I’m just really cheap.

Read the whole post.  It’ll make you think about bolts, politics, change and resources all in one go, which is damned impressive for a short post brought on by insomnia.  This is why I love George’s blog so: when I leave there, it’s not with the same eyes as when I arrived.

Now That’s An Engineering Project!

When we went to Arizona last year, my intrepid companion and I crossed Hoover Dam.  It’s not an experience I care to repeat any time soon.  Lots of traffic funneled through an itty-bitty road sucks mightily.  But considering we weren’t getting anywhere anyway, we pulled over to snap some pictures and ogle the Hoover Bridge, which was under construction and promised to someday make the trip less onerous.  It wasn’t very close to completion, and in fact it was difficult to tell just what it was and how it was going to come together, as you can see from this photo Cujo shot:



A few days ago, @Perrykid put a link up on Twitter that dropped my jaw.  Looks like they’re close to finishing the thing, and now it begins to make sense:



I need to call my daddy.  About the most impressive thing I can say about this is, “Ooo!  Big…”  He’s an engineer, so I’m sure he can expound on the awesomeness of the design.

The sad part is, once they’ve finished it, the drive over Hoover Dam will be no more.  They will no longer allow traffic over the dam itself.  So I guess we were lucky to go when a person could still drive one of the most impressive dams in the United States.

Funny.  Didn’t appreciate it at the time… now I find myself wishing I had enough vacation left to fight the traffic just once more, with feeling.

Corporate Responsibility: BoA Gets It Right

Sometimes, just sometimes, corporations do things that make me proud:

This summer, after months of conversations, some top executives from Bank of America agreed to accompany NRDC staff on a fact-finding trip to Appalachia. In July we flew them over moonscaped mine sites in West Virginia, took them to Kayford Mountain for a closer look at mountaintop mining, and introduced them to several local residents/activists who are fighting to save their beloved homeland from reckless coal mining companies.

Today, BofA released its revised coal policy, which will have the immediate effect of curtailing commercial lending to companies that mine coal by blowing off the top of mountains in Appalachia. The policy states, in part:

Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.

Why is this so important? Bank of America still stands as a pillar of our country’s shaky financial system. In fact, the trying economic crisis has only served to strengthen this behemoth bank unlike other once proud and stable institutions. All the more reason to engage BofA in using its investment power and influence to affect positive environmental change.

There are some corporations that realize you can run a successful company without being a total ratfucking bastard, who don’t believe that “good corporate citizen” is just a useful lie to tell the citizens you hope to suckerpunch. I saw that in action with Target, which does more charity work than I’ve ever seen another company do and also runs a forensics lab that helps out police agencies without charge:


Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.

Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn’t advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren’t as well-equipped as Target’s. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.

I’ve seen the pictures. The place is straight out of CSI, and if it wasn’t in a frozen, landlocked city like Minneapolis, I would’ve been getting my forensics degree and joining the lab. It was pure awesome. They also had safe communities programs running that had an enormous impact in some dangerous areas. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed more – taking phone calls from angry credit card customers isn’t fun no matter how great your company is – but I’ve never been prouder of the company I worked for than I was with them. They truly did put a huge effort into making a positive difference.

I’d love to see more of this. Most corporations do just enough community service to make themselves look nice, but it’s the rare few that actually devote substantial time, resources, and attention to doing right by the world.

Bank of America looks to be on its way to true good corporate citizenship. It’s much appreciated. Here’s hoping others will follow these companies’ leads.

Condemned to Repeat

EX PRAETERITO PRAESENS PRVDENTER AGIT NI FUTUR- ACTIONE DETVRPET


History became a living thing in Roz Ashby’s and Ken Meier’s hands.

On the first day of Western Civilization I, they handed out a quote and asked us to date it. It was a typical “kids these days” rant, full of complaints about their manners, their dress, and their stunning lack of respect toward their elders. Most of the class guessed it had been written in the 1950s or 60s. Professor Meier revealed, with a delightfully sardonic smile, that we were all wrong. The rant had been written by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.

Titian, An Allegory of Prudence

I still have the handout they gave us that day: “The Value of History” by Robin Winks. I’d signed on as a history major because I love the past. I hadn’t, until then, thought of it as something of urgent importance. But the professors’ punk, their impassioned lecture on the vitality and relevance of history, and Winks’ case for its value changed my perception entirely.

History wasn’t just curiosity. It wasn’t simply tradition and heritage, important to preserve for its own sake. It was also essential in order to understand the present and navigate the future.

“From the past the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future,” Titian inscribed on his famous painting. We should chisel that saying into every monument. Those who don’t take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won’t have the wisdom to create a better future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason. Too many don’t listen to that warning. How many times have we weathered a crisis only to discover that it had all happened before? Individuals, organizations, entire nations have rushed themselves over cliffs that others fell from before, when a safe way down had already been discovered.

It’s true that things change, and no situation is exactly the same as another. Some people seem to believe those cosmetic differences mean there’s nothing to learn. And so, mistakes get repeated. Safeguards get torn down because no one seems to remember why they were put in place to begin with. Blinded by the present, looking toward the future, we don’t see what history is trying to show us. We strip away the protections that people made wise by the events of their own day put in place in order to protect the generations to come. We’re seeing the effects of that now, in a myriad of ways: our failed imperial experiment in Iraq, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the crisis in our banking industry brought on by the repeal of regulations enacted to prevent another Great Depression.

That was another age, those who disregard history say. Things are different now. And they plunge in, believing they’re blazing new trails when they’re traveling down well-worn roads.

The past is never truly past. “Great events have incalculable consequences,” Victor Hugo said in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of those consequences echo down through ages. You can’t understand what’s happening now if you don’t understand what happened then. The effects are still being felt. What we do now will impact generations to come.

“This black page in history is not colourfast / will stain the next,” Epica warns in their song “Feint.” We can’t prevent that stain, but history can give us advice on how we can limit its spread.

Some things, perhaps, we’d rather forget. But as Chaim Weizman knew, “you cannot deny your history and begin afresh.” History comes with us, whether we will it or no. Denying it gets us nowhere. Embracing history, knowing it, allows us to accomodate its effects.

History is of great practical value, then. But that’s not the whole of its worth. It offers perspective and proportion. Knowing what others survived gives us hope for a future in dark times. It can put current events in context, just like your old dad giving you the yarn about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways as a kid. I often take comfort from that when the world seems like it’s coming apart at the seams. It’s frayed, often torn, before. We always manage to patch it back up somehow. Civilization has been through worse. As long as we avoid following the same paths that led other ages to worse, we’ll probably do just fine. I tell myself that a lot these days, and I have plenty of history to prove it. From history comes hope.

There’s delight in seeing ancient people behaving the same way we do. We tend to get only the broad brushstrokes of history in school. We don’t get the delightful, everyday bits, the ones that tell us people are people everywhere. Read Socrates griping about the idiot kids in ancient Athens, or abu Nawais looking for his next drink, and you realize that they were people like us. There were fart jokes in the cradle of civilization and risque graffitti in Pompeii. The more you learn of history, the more you realize that the things we consider larger than life arose not from some golden age of supermen, but from mostly ordinary people doing their best to deal with times that were no more or less challenging than now. The best days are indeed behind us – but they are also now, and they are ahead. How much easier it is when we can pick the brains of our ancestors, pluck up their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes. It’s practically cheating!

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years of history is living merely hand to mouth,” Goethe once said. When we neglect our history, we impoverish ourselves. History gives us a chance to live richly. When we can draw on thousands of years of knowledge and experience, we’re no longer condemned.

What the Fuck Can I Possibly Say?

I work with a wonderful young woman from Serbia. She’s one of the most competent people I’ve ever met: practical, insightful, and wise. She frequently leaves me tongue-tied, but never more than when we were on a break the other day, when she asked me, “What do you think should be done about what’s happening in Georgia?”

How the fuck can I answer that? I’m standing with a woman who went through war. She keeps her important documents packed in easily portable containers because she knows safety can crumble in an instant. Americans talk about natural disasters tearing their homes down around them: she watched homes get bombed into oblivion. And she’s been on the receiving end of large countries playing deadly political games with small ones.

I got the sense she expects America to do the right thing. How? I told her what I honestly believe to be true: the European Union is going to have to step up and take the lead on this one, because our credibility is shattered. How can America condemn Russia for expansionist, regime-changing belligerence when we’ve engaged in the same bad behavior? We have no diplomatic capital left. We’ve spent our moral authority. And our military readiness is a fucking joke. We can’t afford to kick Iran around, much less start a brawl with fucking Russia. And the Russians know it. We can’t bluff ‘em: the bluff’s already been called.

I wish we could stop this. We can’t – not alone.

And I don’t know enough about the history and politics of the region to answer the whys. I don’t know exactly why Russia’s flexing its muscles, or why it chose Georgia to kick around. I don’t know what the people over there want. I don’t know what the separatists want from Russia, Georgia, or America. I don’t know what they expect us to do. I don’t know how they can expect us to do anything. I got the sense that some people are still looking to America to lead the way into peace and democracy. They don’t understand that our current regime has no comprehension of either.

“I just want leaders to stop invading countries and killing people,” I finally said. To which she laughed, and agreed: this is exactly what we all want, an end to the politics of the big guns and the military jack boot. We just want leaders who are willing to settle things with diplomacy and civility rather than reaching for bombs, without a single fucking care in the world as to the ordinary people who will die for their ambitions.

I wish America could lead on that front. I wish America had the diplomatic and moral might to say, with authority, without hypocrisy, that the killing needs to stop. We’ll help you stop it, and we’ll help you find solutions that work.

It’s sad how Pollyanna that sounds. Working together to negotiate the best possible outcome for all is the tough, strong way to handle international relations. It’s just the warmongers who have made “negotiation” a synonym for “weakness.” It’s the warmongers who have so squandered our political capital that we don’t have a penny to spare.

Canada Kicks Self-Righteous Ass

The Westboro Baptist Church, apparently bored with picketing American servicemembers’ funerals, decided to head north for a Canadian jaunt. One of the planned stops on their grand tour was the funeral of Tim McLean, the victim of a horrific attack that left him beheaded on a bus.

According to the raving fuckwits of the WBC, McLean was murdered because God’s pissed at Canada for allowing gays and abortion. How the murder of a straight man by a mentally ill man sends God’s message was left unexplained. Most lunatics I know can come up with at least a pseudo-rational explanation for their beliefs and behavior, but members of this “church” are no ordinary nutcases.

Perhaps if they’d been just a tad saner, they would have realized that what they regularly get away with in the U.S. is a fuck of a lot less welcome in Canada.

Not only does Canada have laws that allows it to reject hate-filled frothers at its borders, it’s full of rational, kind people who don’t take well to obnoxious assholes waving around florescent signage at innocent victims’ funerals.

A counter-protest against the church’s picket plans was launched on the social networking site Facebook on Thursday.

More than 700 people have since joined the group; postings indicate they plan to form a “human wall” around the family to shield them from the church protest, if it takes place.

Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin said the group should be “sent packing,” and should not try to show up in Winnipeg “for their own safety.”

“We’re not going to allow these people to compound the tragedy of the McLean family loss, and Canadians simply won’t tolerate these lunatics disrupting what should be a respectful service,” he told CBC News on Friday.

When the day came, border guards turned back one group of frothing fundies, and the handful who slipped through faced a cordon of outraged Canucks. Having God on their side apparently wasn’t enough for the WBC crusaders. They slunk away into the shadows, leaving counter-protesters with little to do.

Kimberly Lemay handed leaflets throughout the crowd, which began forming 21/2 hours before the 4 p.m. service, to urge those on hand to remain calm should Westboro members arrive.

She suggested the U.S. group wouldn’t have had a chance to protest outside the funeral.

“We’ve got the whole place covered,” said Lemay. “Winnipeg and Canada won. Canada is too tough for them.”

You bet it is. Good on yer, Canada.

And that, my darlings, is how you handle the appalling antics of a bunch of crazed fanatics. We don’t even need laws to shut down fucktards like this. All we need is a cordon of good people, sheltering the grieving and standing up for common human decency.

Thoughtful (If Snarky) Answers to Thoughtless Questions

One of the things that stood out like a red coat on a soldier during the whole cracker debacle was the sheer quantity of snivelling. In a thousand permutations, the charming and concerned Christians raised the cry: “Why don’t you desecrate the Koran? Why are you always picking on Christianity? Wah!”

Religious fuckwits being religious fuckwits (and mind, we’re not talking about the Christians here at the cantina who responded with rationality, restraint, and no little amount of hysterical laughter over the antics of their “brethren”), they decided the answer must be: “PZ’s afraid of the scary Mooslims!!1!!!11!”

In a word, no. And he proved that. The Koran ended up nailed to The God Delusion and the cracker, and all ended up in the trash, a vile act of desecration the Muslims have yet to start sending death threats over. To an atheist, no religion’s paraphenalia is sacred. And it’s not fear that keeps us from bashing Islam with the same abandon with which we bash fundamentalist Christianity.

It’s prevalence.

That simple.

You may have noticed that I don’t spend a vast amount of time around here unleashing the Smack-o-Matic 3000 upon the Animal Liberation Front, Harlequin Romances, white supremacists, or any one of ten thousand other ridiculous groups or detriments to culture. I might reach over and give any one of them a sharp rap on the knuckles from time to time, but I won’t dedicate multiple posts to them.

They have no power.

They don’t have the numbers, the organization, or the importance to be any great threat to my way of life, and there’s only so much stupid I can handle in a day. They’re not a priority.

Now, I know what the outraged little rabid Christians are going to scream: “But it was Islamofascists who attacked America!”

Yes, indeed, ’twas. And it was the born-again fuckwit in office who allowed them to succeed. It’s the cons in power who used that one terrible day to push through their religious and political agenda.

I know who the greater threat is, thanks ever so much. A handful of fanatics trickling in from overseas have got nothing on the native-born God brigade here.

Muslims haven’t achieved the kind of political power in this country that threatens the Constitution, no more than ALF has. They don’t have the kind of numbers to try to impose their religious fuckery by legislative fiat on this society. I don’t see Muslims getting themselves elected to school boards so they can sneak Intelligent Design and God into the classroom. I don’t see Muslims in high office doing everything they possibly can to create a theocracy. Until they have political and social power, fundamentalist Muslims just don’t matter much to me on a day-to-day basis.

They pop up their heads, I’ll be happy to use the Smack-o-Matic to play whack-a-mole before they get out of hand. Until then, I’m frantically busy with our own batshit insane theocons, thanks ever so much.

And there’s another important component here. They’ve never had power in this country. They’re a minority. They’ve got all they can handle trying to keep the old, established, have-to-make-up-persecutions-because-they’re-not-actually-persecuted Christians from destroying them.

Do you hear of Christians getting racially profiled at airports? No.

Christian phones being tapped without warrants simply because, as Christians, they’re assumed to be terrorists? No.

Is it Christians being tortured in Guantanamo Bay? No.

Is Monkey Boy George a fundamentalist Muslim? No.

Are Muslim universities turning out droves of right-wing asshats who then go on to infest every level of our government and come up with creative explanations as to why torture is perfectly legal? No.

Christians, on the other hand, have had vast power in this country from the bloody beginning, and they keep demanding more. So, while I might find Islam just as ridiculous as Christianity, and I despise fundamentalism of all stripes, I’m more inclined to give the few fundamentalist Muslims in this country a wee bit o’ a pass. So what if they want to impose Sharia law and all manner of other fuckery on us? It’s not even vaguely possible for them to do so at the moment, and in the meantime, they’re suffering really real persecution for being brown and calling God by the wrong name. My morals tell me you don’t apply the spiked boots to the bloke bleeding on the floor.

When the fucker gets up is a whole other matter. We’re not there yet.

You won’t see me being gentle on terrorists. You won’t see me indulging overwhelming religious stupidity just because the perpetrators happen to be a minority – if we have even a hint of what Denmark faced with the outrageous reaction to a few tasteless cartoons, you can bet the Smack-o-Matic’s coming out. But I’m not going to go out of my way searching out examples of fundamentalist Islamic stupidity out of some misguided attempt at balance.

Do I fear the reaction if I piss off the Islamic fundamentalists, who have at times demonstrated a rather distressing tendency to respond to ridicule with violence? No.

Listen. All a Muslim fanatic has the power to do right now is kill me. A Christian fanatic, on the other hand, has the power to destroy everything in my life that made it worth living.

You tell me what I should fear more.