Sorry, California, But You Have To Pay The Atheist *Something*.

A godless drug offender who was serving his parole
Was remanded to a program where they tried to save his soul
He denies a god exists—a “higher power” is their phrase—
So they threw him back in prison for another hundred days
Now, this differential treatment was unlawful (also, rude)
So the godless drug offender (and his lawyer, likely) sued.

The state had caused him injury, the judge could not deny
100 days in prison cos he wouldn’t tell a lie
The atheist could not deny, the bible isn’t buyable,
And since California locked him up, the state was clearly liable
A convicted drug offender, he was clearly no one’s hero,
When the judge awarded damages—the jury added, “zero”.

Now the Circuit Court has spoken, with the facts beyond dispute;
Sent the case back to a jury, with the warning “don’t get cute”

So, yeah, jury, you may not like the fact that an atheist convicted drug offender sued the state (of California) because they did not have a drug treatment program that did not require him to believe in a god… but seriously, the man was thrown back in prison for 100 days because he wouldn’t say he believed in a higher power, and this is worth nothing?

SAN FRANCISCO — California should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison after he resisted participating in a religious-based drug treatment program, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.

What was the case about?

After Hazle served a prison term, California ordered him to spend 90 days in a residential 12-step program. Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.

Staff at the state-required treatment center reported that Hazle was disruptive “in a congenial way.” The state revoked his parole and put him back in prison for 100 days. He sued.

A Sacramento federal judge determined that Hazle had clearly suffered a violation of his constitutional rights and ordered a jury to assess monetary damages. The jury awarded zero damages.

100 days in prison, that any religious believer (or non-believer willing to lie) would not have had to suffer. But hey, he was on parole. A drug offender. An atheist. The judge asked for a reasonable damage amount, and the jury stepped up and said “nothing.” That was back in 2010 (the initial sentence was in 2007)

“Given the indisputable fact of actual injury resulting from Hazle’s unconstitutional imprisonment, and the district judge’s finding that the state defendants were liable for that injury, an award of compensatory damages was mandatory,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the panel.

The court said another jury must be convened to determine Hazle’s compensation.

The comments at the story are actually not terrible, too, if you go for that sort of thing.

Edit–there is also the actual court decision here (thanks, screechymonkey), which is well worth reading.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

Very Much OK

…Oklahoma, that is.

No time for a big post, but I wanted to direct you to a very nice newspaper piece from the Oklahoma Gazette: Atheism increasingly finds a home in the Bible Belt.

Oklahoma is home to more than 6,500 churches. It’s also home to one of the largest atheist meet-up groups in the U.S.

That latter fact might seem incongruous in a state often characterized as the buckle of the Bible Belt. But some experts suggest the large numbers of self-described atheists aren’t so surprising.

“I am a native Oklahoman, and I have found that while Oklahoma is a conservative state with a strong religious presence, it is a state that has a very fierce independent spirit,” said Charles A. Kimball, director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “There’s a lot of respect for diversity, and that includes religious diversity, in this state.”

What follows is a thorough and very positive report on the state of atheists in the state of Oklahoma (with a nod to the rest of the country as well). Worth a read.

Ah, So *That’s* Where The Fat Went!

A rack of ribs; a leg of lamb;
A turkey roast; a marbled ham;
The fat? We’d gladly eat it!
The drippings from the roasting pan
We use for gravy, quite by plan—
For flavor, you can’t beat it.

But now, our culture’s seen a change
And eating fat is more than strange
When folks are on a diet
Though sugar may be worse by far
Fat gets the blame, so people are
Reluctant, now, to try it

In vain attempts to be more svelte,
The fat we hate, we simply melt
And pour it down the sink
Where does it go? It goes “away”
And more than that, we cannot say
Because we do not think.

The fat collected as we cook?
It’s down the drain, without a look;
Our thoughts end with our meals
But in the sewers, fat gets cold;
Beneath our streets, we now are told
It naturally congeals

A city’s worth of melted lard
Starts cooling down and turning hard
We know what comes of that:
Stalagmites of a lipid sort,
And one, we hear by last report,
That’s fifteen tonnes of fat

Of course, there’s much that we can do
To help prevent these bergs of goo,
The sewer gods explain:
It’s time for people to begin
When cutting fat, to toss it in
The bin, not down the drain!

A Thames Water press release has a very practical warning, illustrated by an extraordinary discovery. The warning? Don’t pour melted fat down your drain (they make this plea each year during the holiday season, I hear, when so many families simultaneously dump the fat from a roast turkey, ham, or yak, down the drain), because it will congeal and clog your pipes.

The discovery? A fifteen ton tonne “fatberg” (pic at the link–worth seeing):

“Given we’ve got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we’ve encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history.
“The sewer was almost completely clogged with over 15 tonnes of fat. If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.
“It was so big it damaged the sewer and repairs will take up to six weeks.

Nearby residents were unable to flush their toilets, and the investigation led to the fatberg’s discovery.

Remind me, next Thanksgiving, to thank the people whose job it is to go down into the sewers in such cases of emergency. 15 tons of rancid fat is, frankly, nasty, but when the system is working perfectly these people are going down into the sewers to check on a city’s worth of waste.

So consider this a public service announcement: Next time you cut the fat from your dinner, dispose of it in the trash, not down the drain. Or do what I do, and cook with it, eat it eagerly, and enjoy it immensely.

(Cuttlecap tip to Ed Yong, via twitter.)

The Devil Went To Concord

The Devil went to Concord;
He was there to raise some hell
With Satanic clothes and music
And with drugs and porn to sell
He would fill young hearts with evil things
Like envy, lust, and hate…
He was climbing up the High School steps
When something whispered, “Wait!”

A mom was in the doorway,
Praying loudly, arms outstretched—
Asking Jesus Christ’s protection
Which the students thought farfetched
What an antiquated notion—
It’s as obsolete as sin
But with Jesus in the doorway
Surely Satan can’t come in

That’s the way some people saw it
And they loved the mother’s zeal
If the school had no objections,
Then perhaps the tale was real
But some others in the district
Find the spectacle quite odd,
Cos the Devil’s merely fictional,
And so, in fact, is God

In a conflict of religious views
A school can’t take one side
So one faith can’t be promoted
And, of course, can’t be denied
Treating everybody equally
Is what it’s all about…
So the law’s the law in Concord
And the praying mom is out.

The full story, relatively neutrally reported, at the Union Leader. Of course, the misLeader is notoriously right-wing, so you have to look at the comments. It’s actually kind of fun, because New Hampshire has a mix of both types of conservative–the social conservatives who support the praying mom, and the (small L) libertarian conservatives who support the constitution.

The Concord Monitor’s editorial, agreeing that the school was right to end the praying. Fewer comments here, of course–a smaller paper–but the first one is the one that inspired today’s verse.

It’s Just A Bloody Cracker!

The flesh of our savior—
A wafer, or host
Is a part of the Eucharist rites
And a miracle happens
Or so goes the boast
With each of the sav(i)ory bites

No longer a cracker,
It’s turned into flesh
(and the wine’s turned to blood, as you know)
Not rotted and nasty
But perfectly fresh
And we gobble it down, even so!

Some call it symbolic,
But we know it’s real—
It’s a truth that cannot be ignored
And once in a while
The blood will congeal
So we’re sure we’re consuming our Lord!

Via Doubtful News, a miracle! A communion wafer is apparently bleeding. I forget–is it believers or atheists who insist on literal interpretations of scripture, and of transubstantiation, and such?

I expect PZ to face charges, now that the wafer has so definitively been shown to be Jesus Himself.

Not Guilty

The verdict is in; they found, of course,
With many tears and much remorse,
We have the right to deadly force
Provided it’s with a gun.
If someone stalks you with their car—
Without a gun, you start to spar—
The law is clear (though quite bizarre)
He’s clear to shoot you, son.

It happened in the dark of night
You both were in a state of fright;
The jury found, he simply might
Have shot while fighting back
You stood your ground, and tempers flared
He had a gun; he came prepared
He had to shoot—the man was scared….
It’s just too bad you’re black.

Not guilty. No surprise, really; black men are scary, apparently, and when you are afraid, and can legally stand your ground, and have a gun, there’s really no other course. But when you are afraid because someone is following you with their car, and you are afraid, and can legally stand your ground, and don’t have a gun–only your hands–you need to know that the rules are different.

Deadly force, or nothing.

Should Atheists Pray?

“Should atheists pray?” the paper asked
And commenters all had to share…
Seems nobody knows what an atheist is,
And nobody understands prayer

At the New York Times, the “Room for Debate” opinion page asks “Should Atheists Pray?”.

With atheist church services this month in Louisiana and New York, nonbelievers are borrowing some of the rituals of believers: gathering, singing, sermons.

Would it be fruitful for atheists to pray? For believers and others, what is the point of prayer?

They ask 5 people, only one of whom is an actual atheist (Hemant Mehta). The others include a professor of psychology and former pastor, a professor of preaching, a visiting professor of the new testament and co-pastor, and (naturally) Deepak Chopra. Of course, the real fun is in the comments to each essay.

We find, among essayists as well as commenters, that there are myriad understandings of just what atheism is–from simply not believing in a god, to specific denial of a god even if evidence for one was shown, to those who specifically hate the Christian god, to frankly incoherent quasi-descriptions. Oh, and it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe, but you already knew that.

There are also a wide spectrum of beliefs about prayer. Now, atheists are sometimes accused of being the only ones who really take the bible seriously (thus, our claims about what believers believe are simply straw men), but honestly, there is no perspective of religious belief that I can conceive of that doesn’t have its manic proponents–from Chopra’s new-age touchy-feely amorphous blobby bullshit to prosperity gospel “god wants you to be rich, so ask him for money” to “prayer is not asking for anything, it’s thanking for everything”, to “prayer is the same as meditation” to anything under the sun.

So, should atheists pray? Near as I can tell, That’s about a thousand different questions, with about ten thousand reasonable answers, and about a hundred thousand unreasonable ones. Me? I have had more than a handful of occasions when I would have prayed, back when I was religious. Some of you know. I have had occasion… but I have not prayed in over 25 years. Never had the slightest inkling. My parents have prayed, my sister has prayed, and I don’t think any less of them for it. Not in the slightest. There is every reason for them to believe in prayer. Every reason but the right one–that it works. I know the studies on intercessory prayer. I know the evidence. I’ve pissed off my whole family by correcting my sister, in her hospital bed, when she credited prayer for her recovery. My own opinion–should atheists pray? No; nor should anyone.

Do I think any less of anyone for praying? Absolutely not. Depending on your own views, and your own definitions of prayer, there are maybe a million reasons to pray. None of the good ones involve there being a god, though. All the good reasons to pray involve us being human, and frail, and scared, or hopeful, or happy, or angry, or… oh, yeah, there are probably a million or so bad reasons to pray, too. So like I said, on the whole, my own opinion is anti-prayer.

But any question that takes a spectrum and requires a black or white answer is a bad question. And that is what the NYTimes has done.

Maybe they should have asked more atheists.

Maybe they should have asked me.

Conscientious Objection The Godless Way

Your conscience is that little voice
Contributing to every choice
For those who let their conscience be their guide
The conscientious types report
If you’re the conscientious sort
You know that voice is coming from inside

For those who know their morals’ source
No Christian God, nor Jedi Force
Is necessary target for our search
But those who lack a moral spine
Whose morals need some source divine
Find conscience in the teachings of the church

For those whose morals are their own
Their stance is theirs, and theirs alone;
For others, moral views are heaven-sent.
I must admit, I was surprised
The moment that I realized
The latter group includes our government!

I guess the laws intend to seek
A very special kind of meek:
Without a god, one cannot show contrition!
Without religion, one can’t choose
From pacifist religious views!
So praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

See, now, this is where writing in verse is problematic. I finish the above comment, only to find that the problem has been solved. Margaret Doughty’s application for citizenship has been approved, after some very strange requests that her refusal to bear arms in defense of the nation (a 64 year old woman, she would not have been asked to) must be supported by a church’s endorsement. Apparently, conscience (on which conscientious objection depends) is officially seen not as something arising from within, but as something imposed by and supported by a particular religious tradition.

When I started this verse, Doughty represented a clear first amendment violation–that an atheist could object to taking up arms was unheard of. Quakers? Sure. Mennonites? Yup. Brethren? Have your pastor sign on the dotted line. Atheist? Wait just a moment.

I had a nice long rant ready… but Doughty’s application has been approved, so I’ll just go to bed now. You can read all about it here.

Cuttlecap tip to Joan!