What? You Disagree With Me?

Professor Cuttlefish? I’m scared;
I feel I might be unprepared—
I understand your point, but see,
I think I disagree!

My other classes share a view
That isn’t really shared by you
It sometimes feels like splitting hairs,
But really, I like theirs!

I’ve got this fear I cannot mask
So, much as I’m afraid to ask,
Still, all in all, I think it best…
Will this be on the test?

I don’t mean will it just be there—
Of course it will, I’m well aware—
But will it cost me points? A few?
To disagree with you?

Your other classes disagree—
With what you’ve learned, so far, from me;
It’s possible, of course, they might
Just have the view that’s right

It could just be that I am wrong—
I’ve been deluded all along—
Succumbing to some oversight
And you could set me right

The only thing that I demand
Is that you truly understand;
To know that what I mean is this
Before you just dismiss.

And if your answers represent
The point of view I really meant
While disagreeing anyway…
You’ll still have earned your “A”

And when, sometime, you recognize
Your other profs are telling lies
About my different point of view…
Then (really!), good for you!

Based on a comment from a student this week, but changed and distorted beyond any recognition, cos I don’t like to write about my real life.

International Blasphemy Day 2013

Today. In recognition of the day of publication of cartoons in Denmark that depicted Muhammed, September 30 has been named International Blasphemy Day.

Blasphemy Day is important. Not for offending people, but for celebrating the right to speak without fear that such an offense can land you in jail, or worse. Political speech often offends me, but the rough-and-tumble of open political debate is a good thing. When we coddle ideas, we allow bad ones to flourish. Religious speech is, and should be, protected in the same sense that political speech is. This includes religious speech that the listener disagrees with. A day to celebrate this idea? I like it.

Today is the day I remind you in rhyme
That blasphemy is a victimless crime.

More after the jump:
[Read more…]

GOP’s Toddler Tantrum Tactics

You won’t make a deal with me?
Two can play that game, you see—
So now I will not negotiate with you!
Since we’ve talked this thing to death
Now it’s time to hold my breath—
And we’ll know that you’re to blame when I turn blue

Hey, you guys, it isn’t fair
That you keep me from my air
And my pipeline, and my drilling, and my coal
And Obamacare’s repeal
And Paul Ryan’s budget deal
It’s a battle for the nation’s very soul

You keep telling me to note
That Obama won the vote
I don’t like it, but I’m very much aware
When the nation had their say,
Though, they didn’t vote my way,
So I’m telling you, quite clearly, I don’t care

So I’d better get my way
When you hold your vote today
And you’d better give me everything I want
Cos if not, you’d best believe
I’ll just take your ball and leave
And condemn you for your politicking stunt

We’ve moved from political negotiations to hostage negotiations in Washington.

Wait… I Thought All The Best Scientists Were Christians!

The Pacific Justice Institute is fighting the “forced atheistic teaching” of elementary school children in Kansas. Apparently, the new science standards are incompatible with theistic religious beliefs.

It’s a legal violation!
It’s our first amendment right!
So we won’t give up our ignorance,
At least without a fight!

We can’t teach our children science
Kids as young as five years old—
Much too young to know the truth about
The things that they are told!

It’s the right of each American,
Which no one can besmirch,
To maintain beliefs force-fed them
By their parents and their church

These beliefs must go unchallenged!
Unopposed at every turn!
If we teach our children science,
There’s a chance that they might… learn!

What I want to do, is to gather up the plaintiffs and lawyers in this case, and put them in a box with the folks who collect theistic scientists to prove that science is on the side of religion, and then tape the box shut and seal them inside with a limited supply of oxygen run the “Three Christs of Ypsilanti” experiment with them. Does science prove god exists? Is science incompatible with religion? Is teaching young kids science brainwashing them? Is teaching them religion?

My New Neighbors, The Angels Of Death.

Well… they’ve got wings and they are looking over me, anyway.

I discovered this morning that I have new neighbors. I had suspected them earlier, but they keep to themselves. But less than 100 meters from my front door, high in an oak tree, is a family of turkey vultures!Neighbors









I think these ones are juveniles; one did his best to look all scary:













And did his best Angel Of Death imitation:










But he couldn’t fool me–I saw what a sweet, sweet face he has:









Welcome to the neighborhood, flying dinosaurs! (Click pics to embiggen!)

The Unintentionally Worst Thing Heard About Grand Theft Auto V

So I was listening to NPR.

On NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”, a discussion of Grand Theft Auto… let’s see… it was The Bankable Legacy Of Grand Theft Auto; audio is available at the link. There was discussion of the economics, of the controversy, of misrepresentation of an adult game as a bad children’s game… honestly, I was mostly shopping, so I did not hear all of the program. I did hear one comment though, that went unremarked on the program, and I wanted to remark on it. At around the 8-minute mark, Jamin Warren, of Killscreen, a “video-game arts and culture company”, responds to the host’s (the excellent Virginia Prescott, I think) comment that one can, if she remembers correctly get points in this game for beating up prostitutes. His immediate response (my apologies if I transcribed it poorly–I think I got it, though):

(8:04) I think the important thing that is important to remember is that there are many things you can do in Grand Theft Auto; some of them, I think, are distasteful—well, I guess, a lot of them are at some level distasteful—but I don’t necessarily think that the violence in Grand Theft Auto against women–obviously it’s problematic at very, like at a very base level, but I think if you were to look at it in the landscape of broader media, it wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.

And yes, (as I understand it) you can, but are not required to, beat prostitutes in GTA V. I played an earlier version of the game, and never once treated it as anything but a driving simulator with some really bizarre racetracks. It was well designed without the added violence against women; my personal tastes would have it with playable female lead characters, and none of the violence, but my personal version would sell, like, twelve copies in total.

But that’s not the important thing. I suspect you caught the important thing, though. “It wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.” The distasteful violence against women… yes, it’s there, but it’s everywhere, so that’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s terribly depressing. When the poster child for symbolic violence against women can simply point to “the landscape of broader media” and say “we’re just following your example”, this is not a point in favor of the game, or of the broader media, or of much of anything.

Let’s beat up some women;
Let’s beat up some whores;
Let’s steal us some autos
And rob us some stores
Let’s tell everybody
It’s only a game…
Cos the rest of the media
Looks just the same.

It’s Like Getting A Letter Back From Santa Claus!

A letter arrived in my mailbox today
From a special location so far, far away
I dropped all my duties to read it, because
The return label said it had come from “S. Claus”

I had written to Santa, some long time ago,
Addressed it and stamped it and walked through the snow
The letter was taken, and wasn’t returned
Which they would, if he hadn’t existed, I’ve learned.

“Dear good little … boy? Little girl? Little fish?
I know you did not get the gift that you wish;
I’m sorry that so many months have gone by
But I’m writing you now and I’m telling you why.

You wanted a pony—or was it a horse?
Could Santa have brought what you wanted? Of course!
The reason I didn’t, though you wish I had,
Is simple: You’ve really been horribly bad.

That’s right; it’s your fault, not that Santa’s a phony—
Of course I could bring you a horse (or a pony)
On my sleigh, even though there’s no snow in Atlanta,
Cos physics works different for me, cos I’m Santa.

There’s no time for the flying, much less for the landing,
So of course it’s too much for your small understanding;
I’m magic—I’m flying, with Dasher and Cupid—
You don’t understand, cos you’re bad and you’re stupid.

So yes, in a magical instant, I’m flying
Which skeptical you make a point of denying
And that’s why your name’s on the naughtiest list…
Because really and truly, I swear I exist.

Just think of the presents you’d get to receive
If you only repented and start to believe!
You could have had presents galore, all along…
If you hadn’t insisted on doing it wrong.

Now I’ve got to get going, so this is goodbye,
And you can be better, perhaps, if you try.
But… if you get nothing, despite what you do?
It’s still cos you’re bad, so I’ll blame it on you.

News Item: Pope Emeritus Benedict Writes Letter To Atheist

Benedict wrote his letter to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who in 2011 wrote a book titled “Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You.” The book was Odifreddi’s reaction to Benedict’s classic “Introduction to Christianity,” perhaps his best-known work.

And the letter?

In Benedict’s letter, he takes Odifreddi to task for what he said was the “aggressiveness” of his book, and responds to many of the arguments with piqued criticism himself.

“What you say about the figure of Jesus isn’t worthy of your scientific standing,” wrote Benedict, who authored a highly praised, three-volume work on the Jesus Christ during his pontificate.

He similarly criticizes Odifreddi’s “religion of mathematics” as “empty” since it doesn’t even consider three fundamental themes for humanity: freedom, love and evil.

On evolution, he wrote: “If you want to substitute God with Nature, the question remains: What does this Nature consist of? Nowhere do you define it and it appears rather like an irrational divinity that doesn’t explain anything.”

Odifreddi doesn’t deserve a pony. But Santa is real.

The Muppets Take The Mall!

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


Scooter: Places, everyone! Five minutes till curtain!

Fozzie Bear: Has anyone seen my hat?

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Piggy:
It’s time to see my Kermie

I don’t know what to say

It’s time to get things started

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

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

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

On Taking Sides, And Town Meeting Prayers

Our founders had their different faiths, and with those faiths as guides
They determined that our government should not be taking sides

That couplet, excerpted from this earlier verse, is the crux of the matter in Greece, NY. In the most recent must-read piece, SCOTUSblog, and author Carl Esbeck, dissects the matter of the case (I’ll only briefly quote here–the whole thing is well worth the time):

Can government knowingly take sides in a matter of religious belief or practice? More to the point, can government actively support a practice that is explicitly religious, such as prayer? This is the issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway as it ought to be framed.

Quoting with approval from Marsh v. Chambers, the Town’s main brief states that the purpose of legislative prayer is “[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws.” The practice not only calls upon a God or gods, but to a Divinity interested and active in human affairs. Why else invoke guidance? This act of prayer is thus consistent with some religions but not others. Deists, for example, believe in an impersonal God. A policy of legislative prayer is doubtlessly taking a side, and no phony pluralism dressed up as “nonsectarian” prayer – a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone – can cover up that fact.

The ubiquitous internet commenters who point to Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists love to claim that the first amendment is not intended to protect government from religion, but to limit government meddling and thus protect religion from government. Esbeck’s piece painstakingly explains why the protection of government from church is protection of church from government.

The divisiveness within the body politic that is a proper concern starts when government takes sides in favor of an explicitly religious practice. Political struggle will likely ensue to seize control of the machinery of government. The purpose for which factions seek control is that the one in power decides the question of continued favoritism of the religious practice. The solution, however, is not to suppress the political struggle which is protected free speech. The solution is to fix the cause of the divisiveness, namely for the courts to start enforcing the taking-sides rule.

Political divisiveness is thus not itself a violation of the Establishment Clause. But it’s a warning sign that the taking-sides rule has gone neglected. Of course, divisiveness within the larger civil society will continue. That’s just pluralism. What will subside is the struggle to seize the levers of power with the aim of controlling whether government continues to take sides in favor of a religious practice.

Mind you, so long as the majority is winning, won’t they be fine with that? What’s to persuade the Christian majority in Greece that the invocation isn’t a good thing despite the entanglement?

In Greece, N.Y., religion prays at the suffrage of the Town Board. The Board, in turn, sought to invoke God’s guidance. But that’s not what the Board got. It instead got an invocation open to all willing locals, including Wiccans and atheists, who, because the Board could not be censorious prayer police, were permitted to say (pray?) whatever they wanted. How did things go so far astray? Presumably because the Board was following advice of legal counsel to “do prayer” federal judges would uphold. In the end, religion was corrupted. That was preventable by a government attentive to Establishment Clause dos and don’ts.

Once you let one in, you let them all in, and you run the risk (as happened recently in Arizona) of an improper and inadequate prayer by the “wrong” people, which you then have to make up for with additional invocations. Of course, then, any other religion must have the same right to make up for your prayer with one of their own, and so on, and so on… And it could not be more clear that these invocations are absolutely not for the benefit of the town, but for the purposes of the churches themselves.

Ultimately religion does not exist to sustain the political order. It’s not a program for municipal improvement or to bless those who take up civic duties. When government uses religion as a tool to achieve its political goals, the danger to religion is that it becomes a courtier in the halls of State.