Back in the USA at last!

I’m home! I got home around noonish, but I promptly laid down and fell asleep. Man, that was a long trek to get back.

But it was all worth it. I went to Oxford for the World Humanist Congress, an event that occurs every three years and costs a small pile of money, but really, if you want to meet godless folk who walk the walk and represent positive Enlightenment goals, it’s the event to attend to restore your confidence in humanity. This one had excellent representation from mainstream European groups like the International Humanist and Ethical Union, European Humanist Federation, and humanists of Netherlands, Britain, and Norway (the Norwegians were ubiquitous!), as well as humanists from specialist organizations like Defence Humanists and countries where I didn’t find an obvious website, like Croatia, Uganda, and Nigeria. International outreach FTW! In three years, the 2017 World Humanist Congress will be held in São Paulo, Brazil, sponsored by Liga Humanista Secular do Brasil, and I’m going to save my pennies to go — it’d be wonderful to attend one of these where I’m not in a jet-lagged fog half the time.

As long as I had traveled all the way across the Atlantic, I had to make a few more stops; thanks to Maureen Brian for inviting me, and Richard Carter, FCD for ferrying me about, I got to visit Hebden Bridge and get introduced to the lovely Yorkshire countryside, and also had a grand time giving a talk to a good crowd. Also thanks to the Edinburgh Skeptics who gave me the opportunity to get dazzled by the weirdness of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and to babble at yet another talk. Also many thanks to Nick Gotts for giving me the penny tour of the city.

Things were busy at home while I was away, too. My daughter is getting married, and #2 Son learned what he’s going to be doing for the next few years: he’s about to be promoted to captain, and is going to be assigned to a medical support unit in South Korea. All I know about that kind of work is what I learned on M*A*S*H, but I’m happy to see that his job will be all about helping people.

Now I feel like I need a few more naps.

Honestly, I survived breakfast

I only dropped off the net because my wifi access was so spotty…and now I’m at the airport and about to vanish even more thoroughly, not to emerge until I land on the other side of the Atlantic, at 8am tomorrow. You’ll just have to talk among yourselves, or visit all those other FtB sites.

Even atheists have sacred cows

Wow! I haven’t been sent so much hate mail since I mangled a cracker. It seems that one of the great American holies is celebrity culture: don’t you dare say anything that comes across as callous about a beloved comedian. My favorite so far was an email that accused me of being a “Jew ghoul”, and then went into detail about the autopsy report because it showed that Robin Williams “suffered like Christ.” That’s the problem, really: it’s fine that you liked and respected the man — I did, too — but the obsessive fascination of our media with every detail of a celebrity’s pain is disturbing. There are helicopters flying over Williams’ house and media vans parked outside it, as if something important will happen there any time, while Ferguson, Missouri is under a police-ordered blackout. There are other celebrities lining up in front of cameras to talk about how wonderful Robin Williams was, while police in body armor, carrying shotguns and batons, are lining up to march down the streets of Ferguson. And damn few people seem to be able to see the stark contrast, much less care about it.

Here are a few intelligent comments on the subject. First is carlie.

I am reacting really strongly to this particular subject, I think, because I watched it play out on twitter last night. I follow a lot of people who are really up on the news as it happens, and the juxtaposition of people giving heartfelt tributes to Williams, people giving legitimately important information about depression, and people showing the absolute breakdown in Ferguson, was incredibly disconcerting. When you see a tweet that’s a freaking animated picture of a genie hugging Aladdin, and you genuinely tear up over it, and then the next thing you see is a picture taken an hour prior of policemen with dogs and riot gear ganging up on one unarmed young man begging for peace and justice, well, it kind of puts things in perspective in a really stark way.

Unfortunately, where you’ll see the real drama playing out is on twitter, with residents sharing the nightmare. When I just checked CNN, the stories were about the aforementioned Williams autopsy report (WHY? Also, why is Williams insta-autopsied and the full report released to the press, while the official Mike Brown autopsy report is suppressed, so the parents will have to get a second, independent autopsy done?), and a long video of a string of Famous People (Mel freakin’ Gibson!) queuing up to talk about how much they loved Robin Williams. Press priorities, you know.

And here’sTony! The Queer Shoop. You might be able to tell that he’s a little bit angry.

This country is starting to scare me to a greater level than it had before. I live in Florida, home of George Fucking Zimmerman. Do you see my gravatar? I’m a man of color. I’m just they type of person that Zimmerman would probably distrust. I’m just the type of person that the police would probably not be terribly nice to. I’m the kind of person people would be suspicious of. I’m the kind of person who the justice system typically treats horrifically.

For the first time in fucking I don’t know how long, I’ve met a guy who is pretty cool. He lives 10 minutes from me. I’ve been single for so fucking long that I have forgotten what it’s like to date or even be in a relationship. I’d pretty much given up hope of ever having the chance to fall in love with someone.

What does this have to do with this thread?

I don’t have a car.

I walk to his house. Often in the evening.

When I leave at night, IT’S FUCKING AT NIGHT. In fucking Florida. The fucking bible belt. Where they already don’t like black people. Then I’m gay on top of that. And an atheist? That’s a fucking trifecta for some people.

The first night we hung out, I walked home. That was before I knew about Mike Brown. I read about that after I got home that night actually. That kinda freaked me out, but I did the same thing a lot of people in this country did, and treated it like an isolated incident. As I thought about it more, I realized that it’s not isolated. Yes, it’s one incident, but it’s part of something bigger, far worse, and a great deal scarier.

Trayvon Martin was just walking home with skittles and a fucking iced tea. He was killed for nothing, bc of a racist scumbag who should be in prison. I’ve walked to the store at night before. I’ve worn a brightly colored tee shirt, and shorts. I’ve carried my cellphone and wallet at all times. Why? Because in the back of my mind, I have to worry about the possibility that someone will want to shoot me because I’m a person of color. Nevermind that I don’t own a gun, and don’t want to. Nevermind that I’ve never been in a fight in my life. Nevermind that I’m not an aggressive person prone to violence. Nevermind that I have a hard time hurting a roach, let alone another human being. No, nevermind all that. There are people out there that wish I were dead, or would take the opportunity to kill me for nothing.

And you know what? That scares me. That horrifies me. Not so much that it’s going to paralyze me, bc dammit I’m not going to live my life frozen by fear, unable to do anything.

But I should be able to live my life and not worry about the possibility of being shot and killed. I should be able to have the same equal opportunity to go through life with the same possibility of a fulfilling existence as white people.

But I can’t.

I can’t because I was born a different color.

And now, in this country, this land of supposed freedom and equality…this land that says everyone was born equal and free, we have a police state that is brutalizing black people. Young and old. We have a government that looks the other way at this ongoting civil rights travesty. We have media that doesn’t want to even tackle stories like this, and when they do, they treat them like isolated incidents. They don’t treat them like symptoms of a deeper problem…when they even document them.

So that brings us to Mike Brown and Robin Williams. I’ve said it so many fucking times in this thread and I’ll say it again:

I’m sorry Robin Williams died. I’m sorry his family and friends are grieving. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, no matter how much I despise them. I wish our mental healthcare system were significantly better. I wish there were no stigma attached to mental illness. Do you get this people? Do you understand that I’m not minimizing what happened to Robin Williams? I hope to fucking god you do because I’m sick and fucking tired of saying it.

But, compare his death, and how it is treated in the media. Compare that to how black people across this country feel. FOR FUCKS SAKE, COMPARE IT TO WHAT I’VE JUST DESCRIBED.

I’m fucking shaking right now and crying because I can’t believe people have so spectacularly missed the point of this post, and it has really hit home tonight, the third day in a row that I’ve gotten to go on a date with the same guy. He drove me home bc even he realizes that it can be dangerous out there at night for certain people with a certain skin color. I appreciate that he chose to do that, even though I would never ask him to do it. I don’t want to be an imposition on anyone.

Don’t I deserve to be able to walk home at night without the worry of being harassed or worry about facing threats from racist assholes? Doesn’t every black person? Doesn’t every single person who is oppressed or discriminated against?


Why is my life…why are the lives of black and brown people across the US..across the planet even…why are they treated like they aren’t of worth? Why are we dehumanized and treated like second class citizens?


And why can’t we have a discussion in this country about this?

Can someone, one you people who are berating PZ for bringing this up…can one of you explain that to me?


Yes I’m crying and shaking still. I guess it doesn’t matter to some people, because I’m just a person of color. Fuck.

Reality should be more important to atheists than some fantasy on the screen. It doesn’t seem to be working out that way.

ceesays is also rather unhappy.

You’re all sitting here talking about mike brown, but I’ve got some more fuckign names for you while you’re all booing the derailing nitwit with the tone argument. Sit all your asses down. Open your ears, and hear me.

Mike Brown was a 17 black boy who was killed by police while he was unarmed. I’m aware that most of you had heard about him before this post.

He died two days ago.

John Crawford was an unarmed 22 year old black man who was killed by police while shopping in a wal-mart, a hotspot for white people to slouch around wearing the latest all american fashion – assault rifles. Perhaps you heard of him. Perhaps the name is fuzzily familiar.

He died on August the 8th.

Perhaps you’ve even heard of Ezell Ford, a 24 year old black man who was killed by police while he was walking along 65th street, some TWO HUNDRED blocks north of where a shooting had been reported. He was lying on the ground and obeying police orders when he was killed by police.

He died on August the 13th. oh look.

That’s today.

you all going to be paying attention when the next unarmed black man dies to police on the 15th? you gonna remember their names when there’s another black person lying dead in the street, killed by police on the 17th? are you going to remember eric garner’s name? you wondering who eric garner is?

It’s not just mike brown. It’s name after name after name, and it’s been going on for years. YEARS. somebody black is KILLED by police in america once every 28 hours, and you’re upset because you have depression and how could anyone dare point out that the media grabbing onto Robin William’s suicide is a political move rooted deep into anti-blackness.

Well. I have mental illnesses too. And Robin Williams – he was famous. He was rich. He had treatment. More treatment than I could ever obtain for my comorbid bipolar disorder and PTSD. And if he couldn’t beat it, why should I even bother?

And if I did beat it, what kind of a life do I get with this skin? because black women get murdered by police. did you hear about the black grandmother who was nearly beaten to death by a cop? did you hear about that? Did you hear about the young pregnant woman in ferguson who was bodyslammed?

Did you hear that it’s so bad that black people don’t want to have children, because look at the world they’d be bring their kids into? Did you hear any of that?

Look, I’m sorry Robin Williams is dead. I admired him a great deal. I loved his HBO improv performance. I watched Mork and Mindy. I watched The Dead Poets Society and Patch Adams and Death to Smoochy. I’m sorry he killed himself, both because I can’t stop imagining how deep the pain has to go to actually go through with it. Williams’s death has conviced me that I have a terminal disease from which there is no cure, and I will die from it. Maybe not today. But I know how I’m going to die. It got him, it’ll get me too. That’s just how it is.

But PZ is right. News media is using his death as a way to turn a blind eye to Mike brown and all the other dead black people they ignore or blame for their deaths.

Oh, and you thought the If I was gunned down photo meme was funny?


Would you mind terribly if I don’t feel safe around you at all? because that photo meme made me want to smash things and weep, because that’s the joke, you see. We’re never allowed to be human. Not even when we’re innocent. Not even when we’re murder victims, because we are not human.

Yorkshire day

I’ve taken a too brief tour of the area around Hebden Bridge today, and in particular, been to Heptonstall where, at last, I have found a church I can like. It’s one that’s crumbling, decaying, and mostly gone.


Isn’t that lovely? Nothing left but old stone, like the bones of the church.

[Read more...]

True intellectuals know the power of the passive voice

Yair Lapid, Israel’s minister of finance, has spoken out against the perfidy of treacherous intellectuals who don’t accept the virtue of his country.

Too many American and European intellectuals have taken moral relativism to its absurd extreme, falling back upon the ‘validity of every narrative’ and repeating the mantra that ‘every story has two sides.’ They treat those who have a clear moral stance as primitive. For them, if you take a moral stand or choose a side in a conflict you must lack the necessary tolerance to "see the other side."

Brilliant: many people see your actions as excessive, violent, and oppressive, and so you respond by accusing them of failing to take a moral stand. The only moral failure I see is when people refuse to condemn the use of violence against a whole people.

It seems a distant memory but not long ago intellectuals did the exact opposite. They were the ones who helped us differentiate between good and evil, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. They didn’t delve into the childhood of Senator McCarthy or ask whether the Germans felt a genuine sense of hardship. The debate wasn’t over feelings but the essence of truth.

Somehow, that’s a familiar refrain. My side is logical, your side is emotional. Quit looking at those dead children! There is a good reason we had to bomb them, and you shouldn’t get all weepy about a few small bits of meat.

The betrayal of the intellectuals was especially noticeable during the days of the operation in Gaza. Ostensibly, there should be no question as to who enlightened people should support; on one side of the conflict stands a western democracy, governed by the rule of law, which warns civilians before striking legitimate terrorist targets. On the other side stands an Islamist terrorist organization, homophobic and misogynistic, committed to killing Jews, which does all in its power to murder innocent civilians and hides behind its own women and children when carrying out its vicious attacks.

But those intellectuals see it differently. For them, the Palestinians are suffering more and so they must be right. Why? Because they have turned suffering into the only measure of justice.

Yes, Israel is on the side of the law…the laws they wrote, that lock Palestinians into a ghetto and refuses to let them out.

But I do have to admire the remarkable passivity of “the Palestinians are suffering”. It’s written as if there is no active agent to oppose. They just happen to be suffering. They’re just standing around, suffering. Don’t ask why they are suffering. The Israeli government and military don’t have anything to do with it.

They just suffer.

The blockade on Gaza has tightened further since last year and this has worsened the toll on Gaza’s population. In Gaza, people suffer from hunger, thirst, pollution, shortage of medicines, electricity, and any means to get an income, not only by being bombed and shelled. Power crisis, gasoline shortage, water and food scarcity, sewage outflow and ever decreasing resources are disasters caused directly and indirectly by the siege.

People in Gaza are resisting this aggression because they want a better and normal life and, even while crying in sorrow, pain, and terror, they reject a temporary truce that does not provide a real chance for a better future. A voice under the attacks in Gaza is that of Um Al Ramlawi who speaks for all in Gaza: “They are killing us all anyway—either a slow death by the siege, or a fast one by military attacks. We have nothing left to lose—we must fight for our rights, or die trying.”

Gaza has been blockaded by sea and land since 2006. Any individual of Gaza, including fishermen venturing beyond 3 nautical miles of the coast of Gaza, face being shot by the Israeli Navy. No one from Gaza can leave from the only two checkpoints, Erez or Rafah, without special permission from the Israelis and the Egyptians, which is hard to come by for many, if not impossible. People in Gaza are unable to go abroad to study, work, visit families, or do business. Wounded and sick people cannot leave easily to get specialised treatment outside Gaza. Entries of food and medicines into Gaza have been restricted and many essential items for survival are prohibited. Before the present assault, medical stock items in Gaza were already at an all time low because of the blockade. They have run out now. Likewise, Gaza is unable to export its produce. Agriculture has been severely impaired by the imposition of a buffer zone, and agricultural products cannot be exported due to the blockade. 80% of Gaza’s population is dependent on food rations from the UN.

Much of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, 2008—09, and building materials have been blockaded so that schools, homes, and institutions cannot be properly rebuilt. Factories destroyed by bombardment have rarely been rebuilt adding unemployment to destitution.

Despite the difficult conditions, the people of Gaza and their political leaders have recently moved to resolve their conflicts “without arms and harm” through the process of reconciliation between factions, their leadership renouncing titles and positions, so that a unity government can be formed abolishing the divisive factional politics operating since 2007. This reconciliation, although accepted by many in the international community, was rejected by Israel. The present Israeli attacks stop this chance of political unity between Gaza and the West Bank and single out a part of the Palestinian society by destroying the lives of people of Gaza. Under the pretext of eliminating terrorism, Israel is trying to destroy the growing Palestinian unity. Among other lies, it is stated that civilians in Gaza are hostages of Hamas whereas the truth is that the Gaza Strip is sealed by the Israelis and Egyptians.

Gaza has been bombed continuously for the past 14 days followed now by invasion on land by tanks and thousands of Israeli troops. More than 60 000 civilians from Northern Gaza were ordered to leave their homes. These internally displaced people have nowhere to go since Central and Southern Gaza are also subjected to heavy artillery bombardment. The whole of Gaza is under attack. The only shelters in Gaza are the schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), uncertain shelters already targeted during Cast Lead, killing many.

According to Gaza Ministry of Health and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of July 21, 149 of the 558 killed in Gaza and 1100 of the 3504 wounded are children. Those buried under the rubble are not counted yet. As we write, the BBC reports of the bombing of another hospital, hitting the intensive care unit and operating theatres, with deaths of patients and staff. There are now fears for the main hospital Al Shifa. Moreover, most people are psychologically traumatised in Gaza. Anyone older than 6 years has already lived through their third military assault by Israel.

The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes, depriving families of their homes by chasing them out a few minutes before destruction. An entire area was destroyed on July 20, leaving thousands of displaced people homeless, beside wounding hundreds and killing at least 70—this is way beyond the purpose of finding tunnels. None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorise, wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild.

They suffer, and it’s just not fair, because people want to end their suffering, and damn their intolerant eyes, they look at who is holding the other end of the gun.