The Middle East, untangled and unknotted

Slate has published a fascinating grid explaining all the relationships between different groups entangled in the Middle East. Countries that hate each other have a red cranky face, countries that like each other have a green smiley face, and the yellow confused faces mean the two countries have a complicated relationship. If you go to the link, each point on the grid is clickable, and reveals a short summary of the relationship. At last, we can understand everything…until the faces change next week.

Unfortunately, the only clarity that emerges is that everyone hates ISIS, and most of the groups hate Al Qaida. I also see that hate faces outnumber happy faces 43 to 17.

But I have a solution! Every country should follow the US and Israel’s lead, and bomb, topple, annihilate, or otherwise destroy every country with a hate face. Just pick your favorite country and look down either row or column, and have them go to war with every country that’s red on the grid. The yellow ‘it’s complicated’ faces do complicate this approach, unsurprisingly, but I’m pretty sure that after you blow up their neighbors, they’ll either go green or red. It’ll evolve towards greater simplicity, naturally.

The survivors after this apocalyptic orgy of destruction will be any country that has nothing but green or yellow faces in their column, which means a wave of happiness and peace will sweep across the region. Easy. All solved. Victory!

You can even examine the grid now and predict who the victor will be.

My only prayer is that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee

This is news to me, but it’s an old story that needs wider circulation. Hillary Clinton is a conservative Christian with ties to the anti-choice movement. She’s not imbedded deeply in that crap, but she likes to affectionately skirt the edges of it.

That’s enough for me — my nightmare would be an election with Clinton vs. some ratbag Republican, with me in the voting booth vomiting all over the ballot.

Can we please have a secular candidate? Please, please, please?

No more US support for Israel

They no longer hold the moral high ground, if ever they did. The massacre in Shejaiya is an obscenity.

Two small bodies lie on the metal table inside the morgue at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. Omama is nine years old. Her right forearm is mangled and charred and the top half of her skull has been smashed in. Beside her lies her seven year-old brother. His name is not certain. It might be Hamza or it might be Khalil. Relatives are having trouble identifying him because his head has been shorn off. Their parents will not mourn them—because they are dead too.

All of them were killed in Shejaiya, one of Gaza’s poorest and most crowded neighborhoods, which came under a brutal and sustained assault by the Israeli military today.

90 dead. The Israeli military was firing artillery shells into a residential neighborhood. It’s unconscionable, indiscriminate murder.

"Those of us who worked in Shifa can say that last night was the worst night of our lives," says Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor at Shifa. He has come to Gaza many times to provide medical assistance, including during the previous two Israeli assaults in 2008/2009 and 2012.

"Israeli impunity is a huge medical problem," Gilbert says. "Every single dead child and adult, and all the injuries, all the amputations, are one hundred percent preventable. This is a man-made disaster. Cynically planned and brutally executed by the government of Israel."

I’ve had people try to tell me that it is justifiable — that Hamas is firing rockets into Israeli neighborhoods. I freely grant that trying to kill random citizens with rockets is also unconscionable, whether it’s done by Palestinians, Israelis, or Americans. But how can anyone condemn one and not the other?

We should not be propping up the vile and bloody government of Israel anymore. Maybe if they’re deprived of the teat of unquestioning US aid, they’ll realize that they can’t afford to solve their problems with attempted genocide.

Although why a Jewish state would need any kind of compulsion to recognize that is surprising.

Church camp looks so … fun?

Look at this video and images from the Rose of Sharon Summer Camp in Tennessee.


Please note that these were not selected excerpts chosen to make the camp look bad; these were publicly posted by a camp counselor who was overjoyed with what the camp was doing, and was trying to promote the camp to others.

All I know is that I’d never send a child of mine there. What a horror of a place.

Compare and contrast that with this video of Camp Quest, made with similar intent.

“Freedom to be who you are without judgment”…yeah, I like that.

Even scarier, the counselor who released the initial Rose of Sharon video was very surprised at the negative response it prompted on the net.


Chilling, isn’t it? She’s abusing children in the name of the Lord, who she loves so much. What you’re seeing there is the end result of generations of indoctrination, of the kind still being practiced at the Rose of Sharon.

Jim’s dead

I’m sorry to see that James Garner has died. Just last week, when I was laid up, I watched a few episodes of the Rockford Files on Netflix — sometimes one just has to reminisce about the 70s, whether we liked them or not.

One thing: Garner was a terrible actor. He always played the same character, himself, in every show he did, but that was OK, because he had such an amiable personality. You knew exactly what you were going to get.

Another, completely irrelevant thing: watching 70s TV was really weird. Nowadays, in a drama, if somebody is going somewhere, there might be a brief shot of them going out the door, cut, they are at their destination. Travel is implied. On the Rockford Files, they go out the door, there is a long lingering scene of the car tooling down city streets or out through the California country side, finding a perfectly open parking space, guy gets out, walks up to destination. Watch it now and geez, you feel like they must really have loved their cars 40 years ago. Half the show feels like an advertisement for Pontiac, or a leisurely travelogue.

But Garner at least made it a pleasant hour.

Responsible atheism

It’s the same old story: ever since I introduced the idea of dictionary atheism, I’ve been accused of trying to redefine the word.

Wrong. Although I should have noticed their twitter handle and realized that they weren’t worth talking to.

What I advocate is taking atheism seriously, owning the word and recognizing the implications and the causes behind your ideas. A flippant “I just don’t believe in god” is only the middle of the story: it’s actually “because X, I just don’t believe in god, therefore Y.” Yet so many people just make that statement, and then argue that there are no antecedents and no consequences of atheism — a revolutionary idea for which people have been executed, which is in opposition to the premises used to establish many of the powerful institutions in our culture, which directly contradicts what many people consider the basis of all morality in society, is treated as casually and cavalierly as the statement, “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music”. So what we get are people who jump on the bandwagon, assert their atheism, and then continue to perpetuate the same old injustices and prejudices as before. Which is not at all unexpected in any movement, but still doesn’t sit well — I think it’s important that we remind everyone that taking on a major philosophical position isn’t the same as getting the latest shoe from Nike. There’s baggage. There are implications.

I’ll also say something that will irritate much of the readership here: you may not like some of their interpretations, but Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens definitely take atheism very seriously, and see it as a transforming principle for society. They’re right about that. If we do take responsibility for what atheism actually means, it has a host of consequences: it means that naturalism is the only principle we should use in making decisions, no waiting for miracles. It means that there is no afterlife, so causing death is a problem of far greater magnitude, no cop outs that they’re going to a better world. It means justice isn’t something imposed on us from above, but arises from our relationships with one another. It means we have to work together to build a better society, and clinging to old biases will not work.

Obviously, this does not mean atheism needs dogma — the disagreements we have are actually a good sign that we recognize that making a post-theist society takes work, and there certainly is no unity within the movement. But I think an important first step is to realize that some people are responsible atheists, and others are not. And for me, the first sign that I shouldn’t even bother arguing with someone is when they pull out the dictionary and declare that atheism only means that you don’t believe in any gods. Well, good for you, you’re nominally atheist, we’re all done, come back and talk to me when you’ve grown up a little.

Fightin’ words

This weekend, Elizabeth Warren spoke at Netroots Nation. This is what I want. This is what I would like the Democratic party to be.

We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive, an American.

We believe Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality, and we will fight for it.

We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage, and we will fight for it.

We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.

We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we will fight for it.

We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, and we will fight for it.

We believe — and I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 — we believe in equal pay for equal work, and we will fight for it.

We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America, and we will fight for it.

We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform, and we will fight for it.

And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!

Right here  in this room this is where it happens. This is 21st century democracy. This is where we decide that we the people will fight for this together, and we’re going to win!

Everyone seems to be assuming that Hillary Clinton is going to be the frontrunner for the next presidential election. Can she be this strong on the right things?

I get email

I’m getting a swarm of these, all sounding nearly exactly alike. And what do you know, an idiot youtube atheist just issued a fatwah. Guys, I’d be more impressed with your claim to be unique individuals if you didn’t simply parrot some youtuber’s talking points.

Hello PZ myers. I just want to email you to ask you a few questions and to plead for sanity. I am fairly sure that I am just wasting my time and you will not respond but here I go anyways. What is the deal with your “free thought blog”? You censor comment and ban people for not agreeing with you, from what I have heard.

Oh, please, get down off the fucking cross already. It’s a really boring trope: I’ve got comments all over the place that start, “I know you will delete this comment because I disagree with you…” and strangely, they don’t get deleted. Look at any article with a lot of comments, and you won’t find it’s all a bunch of people agreeing with me — even regulars here routinely criticize me. What you always find in those long threads is one or more jackasses braying repeatedly and inciting prolonged rebuttals.

“From what I have heard”…right. Sleazy little wanker, you are. Where did you hear it? I bet I can guess.

You seem to start arguments in the atheist community, which largely serve to divide the community and make it harder for us to get in a position to actually do something about the harm that religion causes humanity. You have people on other websites talking bad about other atheists and scientists in your name.

In MY name? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m a guy with a blog and a teaching position, with zero power and authority. I write what I think, and many people agree, and many disagree.

And what atheist community? You act as if there is some monolithic institution with a few rebels causing trouble. Atheism is a chaotic mess, with many communities within it. It seems to annoy some people that I don’t join with the libertarian, anti-feminist herd, but they never seem to consider that it takes two sides to make a rift.

I am trying to be polite in this email but you seem to be starting a cult in your fan base. We all need to work together to make the world a better place. We won’t always agree 100% with everyone even in our little niche groups, if we do then that is a sign of something worse at work. I am not asking you to just go out and say “sorry I was a jerk” but you NEED to stop doing things to divide the community.

Oh, no, I’m dividing the community! I dare to point out that some members of this community are assholes, and you get to call me a jerk and tell me what to do. If you really want to do something to help humanity, then I’m afraid what you need to do is separate yourself from the anti-feminist ranters and join a group that sincerely cares about social justice, rather than using the term as an insult.

I grew up in the 1960s, and I remember a real divide — there were all these young people demanding an end to the draft and opposing war, and then there were all the people with the “America, love it or leave it” bumper stickers. And even when I was 9 years old I could see the deep logical flaw in the bumper sticker people. If you really loved the country, and you saw serious problems (like Nixon, or creationism, or misogyny), wouldn’t the appropriate response be to work to fix them, rather than denying their existence?

Yet here we have atheists who insist on the equivalent of “atheism, love it or leave it,” seeing no flaws at all, and demanding that anyone who disagrees should shut up in the name of holy unity.

Fuck that noise. I do not aim to conform.

I’m willing to pay good money for honest tales of beauty and despair

Chris Clarke has published a short excerpt from his upcoming Joshua tree book. It’s good. It promises great things to come. It’s also mildly sorrowful, but then, that’s what you’re going to get with good environmental journalism.

There’s also a deal where you can sign up for weekly stories on the desert, in return for a reasonable donation. I signed up for a year’s worth — you might want to consider chipping in, too, if you can afford it.

When you let assholes be the public face of atheism, it’s no wonder we have a bad reputation

I am no fan of Bill Maher. I was extremely uncomfortable with his selection as the recipient for the Richard Dawkins Foundation award in 2009, and I could only accommodate it by telling myself it was solely for his movie, Religulous, and not a general appreciation of his asshattery. And I didn’t even like Religulous! Orac was spot on in his criticisms, and while I’d hoped to talk to Maher at some time — we were even seated at the same table — he showed up late, complained about the brand of water served at the table, did his acceptance speech, and blitzed out of the room immediately afterwards. While happy to get an award, you could tell he was completely uninterested in associating with the riff-raff of atheism.

He also showed up with an extremely attractive young woman who could have been his daughter, or even granddaughter, but was actually his date. She was pleasant to talk to, quite unlike her sugar daddy, and actually bothered to engage the table briefly in light conversation. But you could tell that Maher’s ideal woman was candy to decorate his arm in public. It also illuminates his behavior — the man has a history of sexist remarks. Is it any surprise that he has done it again?

Bill Maher benefits from the hive mind mentality of so many atheists. You cannot disagree with Bill Maher without simultaneously delivering a slap to atheism — you must not foster divisiveness. You must accept all prominent celebrities who openly embrace atheism as pure paragons of human goodness — it is simply too complicated to think that a person might have a mix of views that are sometimes appealing, sometimes repugnant. So we constantly loft up “heroes” as exemplars, failing to recognize that the essence of atheism has to be a recognition of the flawed humanity of its people, and then we end up with primitive atheists getting defensive and angry at all those critics who point at the awkward reality of those heroes, whether they’re Feynman or Maher or Sanger or whoever.

The problem is compounded by the fact that these same boosters of the Brave Hero Leader of Atheism simultaneously insist that atheism has no guiding principles or morality or goals — it’s a complete moral cipher that simply says there is no god. So sure, as long as you clearly state that there is no god, you can be sexist or racist or endorse bombing the Middle East or love Ayn Rand with all your heart or believe that the poor deserve their lot since Darwin said “survival of the fittest” (he didn’t), and still be the paradigmatic Good Atheist. In the absence of any moral principle, we can promote even moral monsters, or ascientific promoters of bunkum and quackery, to be our representatives — and if you dare to disagree, you are ‘divisive’ and ‘bickering’ and doing harm to the movement.

I am tired of it. Atheist organizations, step it up, clean up your act, and put together a clear statement of what you stand for. If it’s just that you agree that you believe there is no god, fine; if you think the only cause worth fighting for is separation of church and state, that’s a good cause and it’s reasonable to limit your goals; if you want to promote science education, I’m all for it. But I think you need to go further. You need to recognize the implications of godlessness, that there is no Chosen People, that there is no godly support for patriarchy, that everyone is equal under Nature’s law, and that that means there is a whole raft of social and political causes under your purview…and that you should have a broader statement of the meaning of atheism. I want to know what you stand for. This current vacuum of any attempt at an understanding of what atheism ought to mean is exactly what allows assholes to flourish.

I apologise for the “sugar daddy” comment, which implies that the woman had no say in the relationship. That was not my intent; Bill Maher came off as a sexist pig, but she was actually quite an interesting person. She seemed more intelligent than Maher, that’s for sure.