Blogathon for SSA Week: On FInding the Perfect Cup of Decaf Coffee

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 7:03 pm PDT: 439 Donors, $71,703.02
As of 8:06 pm PDT: 439 Donors, $71,703.02

Not sure if these numbers are being updated now that it’s after hours. I’ll check with the SSA tomorrow.

From my piece in The Humanist magazine, In Praise of Frivolity:

What brings meaning to my life? Donuts. Fashion magazines. Costume jewelry. Playing “Cards Against Humanity.” Pretentious overpriced cocktails with a lot of silly crap in them. Fooling around on Facebook. Looking at cute cat videos on the Internet, over and over and over again. TiVoing the Olympics and watching the really obscure sports we’ve never heard of. Coming up with a sexy, gorgeous, wildly inappropriate outfit to wear to the Dyke March. Padron peppers sautéed in hot olive oil until they blister, then sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Sitting on the sofa watching Project Runway and letting cats crawl all over us. The never-ending search for a perfect cup of decaf coffee.

So. About that search for a perfect cup of decaf coffee

I don’t drink regular coffee. I don’t do well with significant amounts of caffeine, especially since I started taking Wellbutrin. But I love coffee — the scent, the flavor, the ritual — and I drink decaf coffee pretty much every day. I actually get cranky and groggy when I don’t get it: I’m not sure if it’s the small amount of caffeine that’s still in decaf (insignificant if you’re used to high-test, not trivial if you’re not), or whether it’s just a Pavlovian thing where I associate the scent and the flavor and the ritual with alertness.

But here’s the thing: A lot of decaf coffee sucks. It’s often not as richly flavorful as regular coffee, and it tends to have a sour taste (I’ve learned that if a pretentious coffee place says their decaf has “citrus” notes, it usually means it’s sour). So I’ve been searching for the perfect cup of decaf coffee. I found it once in a cafe in Amherst, Massachusetts, but that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good here in San Francisco, and I’ve been chasing that lost chord ever since.

Until I realized:

The perfect cup of decaf coffee is the one I make for myself.

red french pressI’ve spent quite a while tinkering and experimenting, and I’ve found a formula that works perfectly for me. The organic/ fair trade decaf French roast beans from Rainbow Grocery. Ground fresh at home each time I make it. Brewed in a French press coffeemaker, which lets me make it as strong as I like (hint: pretty darned strong). Brewed for at least seven minutes. In one of our standard mugs, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream (half and half is fine, but subpar — if I don’t have heavy whipping cream, I often use ice cream instead).

It’s no-joke strong, with definite bitterness. But it’s not sour at all. It’s deeply rich. The bitterness has a bite, but it’s a clean bite. And with the cream and sugar, it all balances and blends into a complex but easily delicious flavor: reminiscent of chocolate, but sharper and less unctuous.

Now, this might not be the perfect cup of decaf for everyone. It probably isn’t. For one thing, a lot of people don’t like cream or sugar in their coffee — and I don’t know what this French roast from Rainbow grocery would be like if it didn’t have cream or sugar. But it’s the perfect cup for me.

I feel a bit like Dorothy in the last scene from The Wizard of Oz. “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” Which much of the time is bullshit: sometimes getting the hell out of Dodge is exactly what you need to do to be happy, and for me personally, a whole lot of my heart’s desire is at atheist conferences and speaking gigs all over the country. But it is kind of funny that it took me so many months of chasing around the city looking for something, while I was literally in process of discovering and creating it for myself.

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon for SSA Week: More Reasons To Be Giddy About the Secular Student Alliance

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 6:08 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02
As of 7:03 pm PDT: 439 Donors, $71,703.02

I’ve been blogging up a storm for the Secular Student Alliance today. So far, I’ve been blogging about mindfulness meditation, cats, songs about cats, atheist organization, cats, atheist songs, secularizing language, cats, tattoos, the Bible, cats, and television.

But except at the beginning of my leg of the Blogathon, I haven’t been blogging that much about the Secular Student Alliance itself, or why I care so passionately about it that I’m willing to devote an entire day to a blogathon fundraiser.

Here’s the deal, in a nutshell.

If you care about the future of the atheist movement, you should support the Secular Student Alliance. The leaders and members of the SSA student organizations are going to be the leaders and members of the atheist movement in the years to come. As JT Eberhard has said: The future president of American Atheists is almost certainly a leader of an SSA group right now. Ditto the future head of the American Humanist Association, the Secular Coalition for America, the Foundation Beyond Belief.

I’ll add to that: The future publicists, development directors, administrative assistants, conference organizers, lobbyists for atheist organizations… they’re almost certainly involved in SSA groups right now. And the future heads of the Omaha atheist group, the Seattle atheist group, the Dallas atheist group, the Charleston atheist group, are almost certainly leaders of SSA groups right now. The future founder of the local atheist groups that don’t exist yet are almost certainly leaders of SSA groups right now. Heck, the future “ordinary atheists on the street” who don’t get super-involved in movement atheism, but who show up for local meetings and stuff envelopes and are out as atheists to their friends and family… they’re almost certainly involved in SSA groups right now. And they will be hitting the ground running, with skills they’re learning right now. If you care about the future of the atheist movement, you should support the Secular Student Alliance.

And if you care about the present of the atheist movement… you should support the Secular Student Alliance. Student organizations are doing a huge amount of the on-the-ground community organizing that everyone in the atheist movement keeps saying we so desperately need. They are creating the social support systems we all say we need, the support systems to help replace the ones people often lose when they leave religion and come out as atheists. They’re doing it for a demographic that is very, very receptive to our ideas — the “under 25″ demographic that’s losing its religion at a faster clip than any other, by a huge margin. And they’re doing it now. Not just in the future — now.

I showed you this graph already, didn’t I? Well, I’m showing it to you again.

SSA growth chart

This is a graph of the number of SSA affiliates over the years. Look at how those numbers are going up, up, up. Look at how they’re rising, not just in colleges and universities, but in high schools (the green tips of the bars). And as high school atheist organizations continue to rise, more students will be hitting college with an arsenal of motivation and organizing skills already in their pockets. What’s more, as high school atheist organizations continue to rise, an entire population of people who never go to college will be entering adult life with that same motivation and those same skills… and carrying them into their communities.

If you care about the future of the atheist movement, you should support the Secular Student Alliance. And if you care about the present of the atheist movement… you should support the Secular Student Alliance.

Every donation makes a difference. Every small amount helps.

Please help now.

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon for SSA Week: “Mad Men,” “Homicide,” and What We Want From TV

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 5:07 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02
As of 6:08 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02

mad menI got immediately sucked into “Mad Men,” as soon as it came on the air. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s one of the best things on television. So of course, I tried to get Ingrid sucked into it. She watched a few episodes… and said, “Yes, I agree that it’s brilliant, it’s one of the best things on television — and I just don’t want to watch any more. It’s too depressing.”

I had a sad. I don’t have that many friends who are into the show, so I don’t have that many people to yak about it with and dissect it endlessly. But the thing is… I knew exactly what she meant.

Because I feel the same way about “Homicide.” Ingrid loves that show, she’s running through the DVDs and is totally into it. She thinks it’s brilliant, one of the best things on television. I watched a few episodes, I totally agreed… and I just didn’t want to watch any more. It was too depressing.

So I’m pondering two different questions here. One: What makes a TV show (or movie, or book, or whatever) intolerably depressing for some people and not others? And what are we looking for from television?

For me and Ingrid, what we’re often looking for is reasonably intelligent distraction. We don’t want to be talked down to or patronized… but most of the time, we also just want to relax. We watch TV after long days of work, and we often watch it just to unwind. That’s sometimes true of other forms of entertainment… but for some reason, it’s more true of television. Maybe because we bring it into our home instead of going out to get it… but then, I don’t feel that way about books.

Homicide DVDSo I’m not sure why I feel differently about TV than I do other forms of entertainment. And I’m not sure why I find “Mad Men” to be a near-perfect balance between challenging and entertaining… and why I find “Homicide” unbearably sad and awful. Or why, for Ingrid, it’s the other way around.

Thoughts? What do you turn to TV for? And where do you find the line between “interestingly challenging” and “shoot me now, life sucks enough without voluntarily putting myself through an emotional wringer”?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Even More Cat Pictures for the Secular Student Alliance!

As part of my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week, I will post one new picture of our cats for every $100 raised! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02
As of 5:07 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02

We’ve raised over twelve hundred dollars in the last two hours for the Secular Student Alliance! So as promised, here are twelve more pictures of our cats. Our cats have a wonderful wide-eyed gaze: they are experts at the intense, thousand-yard stare. Here are some classic examples. Some below the fold.

Wide-eyed Comet [Read more...]

Blogathon for SSA Week: Isaiah 41:21-23, “Demand evidence for the existence of gods — except, of course, for me”

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 4:03 PDT: 438 Donors, $70,573.02
As of 5:07 pm PDT: 438 Donors, $71,693.02

Not sure how that happened, but I’m going to trust that the dollar amounts are right.

Ingrid told me about this. Don’t remember where she heard it from: Facebook, probably. Isaiah 41:21-23, Revised Standard Version:

21 Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. 22 Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. 23 Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.

Dafuq?

The Christina Revised Translation (also known as the The Waterbury Translated Form, or WTF edition):

When it comes to other gods, you should demand evidence. If those gods are real, and are really gods, they should be able to do things human beings can’t do — like make clear, accurate, consistent predictions about the future. But when it comes to me… you need to have faith. If I gave you clear evidence that I existed, it would demolish your free will and your ability to freely choose to obey me. Somehow. Don’t ask me why. Who are you to question me anyway, puny Earthlings? In fact, I’m gonna make a new rule here: Suspending your own judgement and simply trusting in the religion you’re being taught is an unmistakable sign of virtue, and doubting my existence and asking for evidence of it is sinful and blasphemous. Because, reasons.

And I say yet again: Dafuq?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon for SSA Week: Imaginative Star Tattoos?

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02
As of 4:03 PDT: 438 Donors, $70,573.02

So I’m thinking of getting another tattoo. A set of them, actually, to commemorate my surgical scars (five of them, I had laparoscopic surgery, so I have five little scars instead of one big one). I’m thinking of getting stars, one on each scar, so the set of them looks like sort of like a constellation.

Five pointed starBut I don’t want the stars to just look like regular five-pointed pentagram stars. I want them to look more interesting than that, more imaginative. I’m not a designer, though. So I’m crowdsourcing this: Does anyone with tattoo experience — or heck, without it — have ideas on how to do a star tattoo, or a series of star tattoos, that are clearly identifiable as stars, but don’t just look like pentagrams?

If it helps, you can see the scars (four of the five, anyway), and where they’re situated on my body — not great, but you can see them — in this picture. It’s the one where I’m half-naked with the word “MINE” written on my torso in lipstick, the one I did in support of Tunisian anti-theocratic activist Amina. They’re in an arc across my belly and above my belly button, with one more dipping down just below my waistband.

Thoughts?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Still More Cat Pictures for the Secular Student Alliance!

As part of my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week, I will post one new picture of our cats for every $100 raised! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 1:01 PDT: 431 Donors, $69,948.02
As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02

We’ve raised almost six hundred dollars in the last three hours for the Secular Student Alliance! So as promised, here are six more pictures of our cats, posed on our beautiful new blankets like they’d been put there by a photographer. Including, as promised, two of Comet and Houdini nursing on the new blankets!

Comet nursing on blanket

Houdini nursing on blanket

To be strictly accurate, Houdini doesn’t nurse exactly: she just sort of presses her face against the blanket and kneads it like it was bread dough. Comet goes to town, though.

Houdini on purple blanket

Comet on teal blanket

Talisker on red blanket

Houdini on teal blanket

If you like these cat pictures, please donate to the Secular Student Alliance! Even a small donation makes a real difference. And more donations will get you more cat photos!

Blogathon for SSA Week: Secularizing “Good Angel/ Bad Angel”

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 2:01 PDT: 433 Donors, $70,118.02
As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02

I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. It’s not a huge deal, I’m not going to beat myself up if I slip, and I don’t particularly care if other people do this or not — this is just a personal preference. But when I’m expressing secular concepts, I’m trying to use secular language. For instance: when people sneeze, I say “Gesundheit” (it’s German for “health”) instead of “Bless you.”

The last time I wrote about this, I was looking for a secular alternative to “Preaching to the choir”: the one I liked best from all the suggestions was “Cheering to the pep squad.”

So now I’m looking for a secular alternative to “Good angel/ bad angel.”

You know — that trope where there’s a good angel and a bad angel sitting on each shoulder — or, often, an angel and a devil — whispering in your ear advising you to do the right thing or do the wrong thing. As in, “I know we’re both frazzled, but I’m trying to be a good angel — let’s go to the gym, we’ll feel better.” Or, “You want me to order the chocolate decadence mousse cake so you can have a bite, don’t you? You’re being such a bad angel!”

Does anyone have suggestions for some secular alternatives to this phrase?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon for SSA Week: My Atheist Music Mix

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 1:01 PDT: 431 Donors, $69,948.02
As of 2:01 PDT: 433 Donors, $70,118.02

I put together an atheist/ humanist/ skeptical/ irreligious mix CD a little while back, and thought I’d share it with all y’all. Songs being listed here is no indication that the singer or songwriter is an atheist. Links to YouTube videos when available.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing, The Persuasions (covering Frank Zappa)
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel
Into My Arms, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam, The Vaselines
Marshmallows and a Holy Bible, Circus Contraption
Science Is Real, They Might Be Giants
Superstition, Stevie Wonder
Hard To Be, David Bazan
Dear God, XTC
God, John Lennon
And When I Die, Laura Nyro
It Ain’t Necessarily So, Aretha Franklin
Are You Ready, Freakwater (live version — couldn’t find the studio version on YouTube)
Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You), Austin Lounge Lizards (weird irrelevant fan video)
All Things Dull And Ugly, Monty Python
Part Man, Part Monkey, Bruce Springsteen
Stealing, Tackhead
When I’m Gone, Phil Ochs
Heaven, Talking Heads
By & By, Chumbawamba
What a Wonderful World, Joey Ramone

By the way, I’m getting it on the record now: I want “By & By” played at my funeral.

What are your favorite atheist/ humanist/ skeptical/ irreligious songs?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

More Cat Pictures for the Secular Student Alliance!

As part of my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week, I will post one new picture of our cats for every $100 raised! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 10:05 am PDT: 427 Donors, $69,687.69.
As of 1:01 PDT: 431 Donors, $69,948.02

We’ve raised almost three hundred dollars in the last three hours for the Secular Student Alliance! So as promised, here are three more pictures of our cats.

We got these blankets a few weeks ago: nothing special, just $20 numbers from Bed Bath and Beyond, but they’re very soft and fuzzy and warm, and the colors are wonderful. But we didn’t realize when we got them the most important benefits of all:

a) The cats love them. They are obsessed with them. They nestle in them all the time, and Comet and Houdini nurse on them. I think the texture must be similar to mama-cat-belly or something.
b) The cats photograph against them beautifully.

Here are three photos of Talisker against the backdrop of the new blankets. I think it makes her look like she’s been painted by a Dutch master.

Talisker as painted by Dutch masters 1

Talisker as painted by Dutch masters 2

Talisker as painted by Dutch masters 3

If you like these cat pictures, please donate to the Secular Student Alliance! Even a small donation makes a real difference. And more donations will get you more cat photos — maybe even some of Comet and Houdini nursing on the blankets!