QAnon, self parody on steroids

So, apparently Q has gone quiet since not long after last November’s US election. As a result there is a power vacuum, or perhaps “influence” vacuum, since QAnon isn’t precisely a hierarchical movement where anyone is overtly or specifically empowered to order others to take action. Whether in practice people have sufficient influence to declare an action needs to be taken and can expect that QAnons, at least some of them, will take that action is a separate question. (And I think the answer to that question is yes.) But call it power or influence, the vacuum exists, and there are many people who covet that power/influence and will pursue it.

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Anti-Heresy Laws Still Suck

While there’s a lot to be getting on with this week in the USA (and, heck, around the world, what with the novel coronavirus & all), it’s interesting to note that some of the old authoritarian tactics condemned many times here on FtB still have not gone away. This time I want to mention Poland, where queer women publicly displayed (and probably created, though that’s something I’m not sure on) an altered version of a famous painting: the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Black Madonna of Czestochowa, an iconic painting of the Virgin Mary with great historical and cultural significance in Poland.

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The Death Squirrel (Not?) From Bethlehem

Great Gods of Garlic Gumbo, the derangement is worse than I thought. I am now forced to bring you another episode of Unclear on the Concept.

A couple days ago I created a post expressing my annoyance with particular problematic practices that I have observed frequently to occur in discussions about the so-called Historic Jesus. I was even quite clear that I wasn’t talking about actual historians writing in actual journals:

I won’t contest how this [methodology] is used in the work of peer reviewed historians. Perhaps that is even the best method, certainly it must be among the better methods or professional historians wouldn’t use it. However in the work of professional historians, I think they better understand exactly how limited is the claim that HJ existed.

Outside of arguments in journals, however, I think that this argument ill suits these less professional audiences.

Got that people? I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE JOURNAL ARTICLES WRITTEN BY PROFESSIONAL HISTORIANS, SO ASKING ME TO CITE OR CONSIDER THE PERSPECTIVES OF PROFESSIONAL HISTORIANS IS A BLATANT SIGN YOU HAVEN’T EVEN TAKEN THE TIME NECESSARY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THIS DISCUSSION IS ABOUT.

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Historical Jesus is a Squirrel

That said, I find this post-election weekend to be a good one for random distractions, so let’s have some fun by taking inspiration from the discussion of Historical Jesus raised by Sarah at Geeky Humanist on Saturday.

My first and biggest problem with everything Sarah has said is that we don’t have a good definition of Historical Jesus anywhere in her post. To be Historical Jesus, does one need to have been publicly crucified? Because lots of people were publicly crucified.

To be HJ does one need to have preached some stuff? Because lots of people preached some stuff.

To be HJ does one need to have been born in Bethlehem? Because lots of people were born in Bethlehem.

Et a number of ceteras.

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Israel, Black Lives Matter, Jewish Whiteness, and this Historical Moment’s Call for Justice

I don’t write about Jewishness much. For most Jews, I’m Jewish enough. But not for all, and I see their point. My adult atheism makes it easier for me to pass, or even just deny any Jewishness if I were the type of person to want to do so. My childhood distance from Judaism means that I don’t feel the pain of anti-semitic insults as acutely as many. I have no Holocaust stories in my family to feed the watchful eye that notices anti-semitism at all.

I am, in short, a Jew hardly harmed by anti-semitism.

It is largely for this reason that I struggle with taking positions on Israel. I don’t have to have Holocaust stories in my own family to remember the stories told to me by congregant’s parents. My time writing newsletter articles for my shul had me taking down the words of people whose parents had survived the concentration camps. I know the effect is real, and lasting. I’ve seen it impact friends and co-congregants. When they tell me how desperate they feel when it seems Israel is under attack, i hear the shift in timbre. I feel the anxious air between us.

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Whom do I root for?

ZOMG, there’s a youtube video titled “PragerU Dismantled by an Evolutionary Psychologist”. Key claim? Around 1 minute in, the author of the book “Alpha God” asserts: “Evolutionary psychology explains the biblical god better than Prager does.”

I’m too scared to watch. Someone tell me when it’s over so I can uncover my eyes:

The Atheists For Liberty and Enlightenment Values

PZ has a new post up about a group Atheists for Liberty which proudly announces its embrace of Enlightenment values. Turns out it is a creature of Peter Boghossian, someone whose work I’ve criticized harshly in the past right here on this blog and whose ethics, clearly, are lacking.

Let’s be clear. “Enlightenment values” suck. Sure, Enlightenment philosophers actually move epistemology forward quite a bit. They also provided hugely important arguments for more widespread literacy and education on diverse topics. They developed a contractarianism sufficiently complete to found a country from Hobbes’ proto-contractarianism where “consent of the governed” had more Machiavellian meanings almost entirely limiting it to the practical advice to rulers not to encourage the masses to take up torches and pitchforks because those torches and pitchforks, in addition to being official notice of revocation of consent, were also a bit dangerous to the ruling class.

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Congregation Chabad: The Blood of Our Children, Perhaps Our First Born

There is yet another mass shooting at a place of worship. The details aren’t out yet, but we know that at least four people have been shot at the Congregation Chabad northeast of San Diego during a regular shabbat service on a special shabbat: the 8th day of Passover. As four victims is often taking as the number that defines a mass shooting, whatever news comes next, we know this qualifies.

The good news, such as it is, is that local law enforcement apparently has the shooter in custody. The shooting is, for the moment, likely over. While not as extensive or as lethal as the recent attacks in Sri Lanka or New Zealand or Pittsburgh, it’s certain that this attack has commonalities with all of these, and has more direct connections at least with Pittsburgh (today is exactly 6 months after the Pittsburgh attack), but also likely with New Zealand.

I’ll be updating this as more comes in. The notes will not necessarily be cohesive in the sense of the larger post, but I hope to provide updated information as I get it, and I hope I can at least make sense within the updates.


As both of my readers know, I have a weird and idiosyncratic religious history, with a childhood more Christian, but an adulthood that was Jewish when it wasn’t either vaguely spiritual or, later, entirely non-religious. I have most of the general cultural knowledge of others raised Jewish, but rarely have the same level of emotional attachment to shared jewish traditions and customs. While there have been many atheist Jews over the centuries, the emotional distance I feel makes me even more uncomfortable with being taken for a representative of jewishness than other atheist jews. Nonetheless, the group affiliation is there. There are definitions of jew that include me, and I’m not prepared to give them up.

The weird thing is that this sometimes creates very complicated emotional consequences for me: The Chabadi would, I’m sure, quickly disavow any possibility I might be in the same category of jewishness as they. And I can’t say I feel some close kinship with Chabadim as fellow travelers on the same road. The congregation where I made my adult home was small and unaffiliated, but leaned much more toward Reconstructionist judaism than any other flavor. I’ve never even been to services at a Chabadi synagogue, though obviously some features of services would be readily familiar to me. I imagine going to a Chabadi service would be something like a Mormon going to a Catholic service, or a Unitarian Universalist going to a 7th Day Adventist service.

And yet, weirdly, this almost-closeness interrupts my thoughts about this tragedy in a way that my clear distance from Sri Lankan communities or muslim communities in New Zealand does not. In those cases, I don’t feel any expectation to speak knowledgeably about Islam’s failings or Sri Lanka’s long and multi-faction history of violence. I can simply say that it doesn’t matter what the history is, the violence was unjustified and tragic. Yet in the case of the attack on Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha in Pittsburgh or (now) Congregation Chabad, I feel that I’m somehow supposed to speak about, and speak knowledgeably about, everything from the history of the Lubivitchers (of which I know little) to the distinctions between Reform and Reconstructionist judaisms (where I’m more knowledgeable but no expert) to my seemingly contradictory position that I’m not entirely opposed to Israel keeping occupied territory in the Golan while I thoroughly and utterly oppose the occupation of Gaza.

But I don’t have to explain those things, as much as my brain might pester me with sharp pokes. Because the same is true here as is true in other mass shootings: The violence is unjustified. This violence can never be justified. This violence must end.


Looking at the pictures of the police tape around the synagogue I was struck with the idea that this created a twisted mockery of an eruv.


Newer reports are putting the total shots fired around 10, and one report is listing a single person dead in addition to the four people wounded whose conditions were reported earlier.


And now reports are saying that rather than one murder in addition to the 4 injuries that were reported, there were a total of only 4 people hit, with 1 person killed and 3 injured. Although I’m no longer sure which is correct, I think this makes it very likely that the number of persons shot is unlikely to increase with new reports.

The one person killed is said to be an older woman.


In entirely not-shocking news, the shooter has been determined to be a young adult man. Who would have thought?

In slightly more shocking news, the mayor of Poway, the city where Congregation Chabad is located, has declared this a hate crime. It’s not at all surprising that it’s a hate crime (the only other plausible possibility given what we knew was domestic violence turned public), but it is somewhat surprising to me to hear the Mayor say that this early. It seems likely, then, that the shooter has been making statements about his anti-semitic motives to law enforcement, with the information then further communicated to the Mayor. This last is speculation of course, but I think it will prove true.


Trump has offered “thoughts and prayers”. Anti-semitic scumbags offering their selfish thoughts and bigoted prayers are worse than useless. I hope people take this opportunity to call Trump out again for his Nazi sympathies and general awfulness.


And… it has now been pointed out to me that I missed a story from earlier this week where a Christian guy, also in California,

deliberately drove into a group of pedestrians because he thought some of the people were Muslim

Also of note? He was on his way to a Christian bible study meeting at the time he chose to run these folks over. While the DA isn’t formally alleging any violation of hate crime provisions, prosecutors are still investigating and have not decided against those charges. For the moment, he’s been charged with eight counts of attempted murder.


A former Assistant Secretary of State (Joel Rubin) was on Fox News to discuss the rise of anti-semitism in relation to the Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha shooting 6 months ago and the Congregation Chabad shooting yesterday. After Rubin pointed out that there’s been substantial growth in public anti-semitism and mentioned the Charlottesville horror, he then made the point that Trump had “essentially said [the Charlottesville Nazis] were fair”. As soon as Trump was mentioned, Fox cut to commercial and came back from break pretending nothing unusual happened.

Ireland and Michael Nugent Win One – A Good One & A Big One.

So, the Irish constitutional provision authorizing the criminalization of blasphemy has now been repealed. This means that to the extent that the constitution of Ireland protects speech, it will now protect it just as extensively when that speech has religious content as it previously did when the content was other than religious. The Guardian notes that, while this is a win for all of Ireland (with 65% voting on the winning side and all Irish gaining in freedom), Michael Nugent and Atheist Ireland have been advocating for this for a long time:

“It means that we’ve got rid of a medieval crime from our constitution that should never have been there,” said Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, which had campaigned for years to have blasphemy taken out of the constitution.

Nugent said the result was another important step towards realigning national laws with contemporary Irish life.

“The population has moved on, [people are] no longer controlled by the Catholic church, but a lot of the laws that were put in place are still there,” he added. “We have to chip away at them and get the state to catch up with the people.”

I know nothing about Irish politics, but this bit sounds good too:

Voters also returned president Michael Higgins to office, giving the 77-year-old poet and human rights campaigner another seven-year term by a comfortable margin.

65%+ voted a few months ago to repeal the Irish constitutional ban on abortion. 65% voted to repeal the Irish constitutional blasphemy exemption from free expression protections. And 55% voted to reelect a “human rights campaigner” to the office of the Irish presidency.

Of course, there is a snake in the grass, Ireland or no. The 2nd place finisher in the presidential election was Peter Casey who was polling dismally just days ago, but shot up to 20%+ by throwing hatred and demeaning stereotypes at Irish travelers, then defending his prejudice by insisting that it can’t be that bad, because it’s not racism, because the travelers don’t constitute a race.

The fact that Casey got more than 20% should be an embarrassment as well as a check on the potentially pacifying exuberance that can easily come in the wake of successful campaigns for positive change.

So congratulations, Ireland, but please don’t get overconfident.