Stephen needs help

In America, if you’re a wage lackey who experiences a major health problem, you’re just out of luck — the working poor get thoroughly screwed by the system. Stephen Andrew of The Zingularity is working two jobs, coming off a major heart attack, and is about to be evicted from his home. I guess his real problem is that he’s one of the moochers who didn’t vote for Romney.

He’s looking for donations to tide him over this rough spot. If you’re one of those people with a stable income and good health and a bit of a surplus…oh, hey, that’s me! I should go click on his paypal button.

Congratulations to FBB and Greta Christina!

The Foundation Beyond Belief raised $430,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and cancer research.

Last year the Foundation named Christopher Hitchens as their honored hero to represent the struggle against cancer. This year, it’s FtB’s very own Greta Christina. Give her a thumbs up…and most importantly, they’re trying to raise more money this year, so donate if you can!

A charitable ethos

I very much enjoyed this TED talk by Amanda Palmer — she puts into practice a spirit of community that we would do well to foster, and which is actually at odds with many people’s attitudes. She’s talking about the music industry specifically but a way of life in general. Rather than trying to think of ways to make people pay for music, putting them in the cattle chute and compelling them to cough up the cash for the industry, she recommends asking and letting them pay, if they can and if they want.

I thought of Greta Christina when I saw that. Recall that when she went in for surgery, she asked for donations to help out…and people who valued her work and appreciated what she brought to the atheist community chipped in and freely gave. That was the work of community. That’s how it ought to work.

Palmer talks about the resentful people who would shout at her “get a job”…and they’re out there. Those are the people who didn’t give, who would bitterly denounce Greta for using money freely given as she saw fit. It’s a peculiar situation where true community is always going to be prone to parasites, but some people get so wrapped up in policing freeloaders that they end up destroying the community they intend to protect.

I think one of the hardest habits for people brought up in a society that dogmatically worships capitalism is to surrender a little bit and just give without expectation of compensation, and without demanding the right to retain control. They’ve rather lost sight of the meaning of the word “give”.

Quick! Let me correct one potential misapprehension in advance! I am not asking you to give to me, I’m not doing an Amanda Palmer move and offering you a flower and a moment of connection for a gift of compensation. I’m one of the lucky ones: I’ve got a secure job, live in an area with a low cost of living, have very good health insurance. I can do this blogging stuff, my own form of giving, without asking you to contribute directly to me. Some of you occasionally give me a small gift when we meet — a bit of squid art, a cupcake, a glass of beer — and that token is more than enough.

If you do feel a compulsion to give, I recommend you pass it on to one of the other bloggers here on FtB who do not have my good fortune of financial security, or alternatively, visit the Foundation Beyond Belief, where you can find plenty of outlets for your compassion.

Today an egg, tomorrow the world!

Man, you give them a millimeter, they take a centimeter. We had a successful fundraiser for the Kasese Humanist School — they just wanted a chicken coop and a flock of chickens so the kids would start the day with good nutrition. And they got that. Here are these kids, grateful for an egg.

But that isn’t enough. These kids want more. Come on, guys, you’ve got an egg…it’s not enough?

No, it’s not. Now they want to own their school, which is currently on some leased property. So they’ve started another fundraiser to pay for a small plot of land — they need $7000.

I don’t know about this. First they’re getting a whole egg, and next they’re getting a school…I expect some day they’re going to be posting videos of kids graduating and getting diplomas and going off to college…scary stuff.

If you want to encourage that kind of ambition, go ahead, donate a few dollars.

Godless goals, godless progress

Debbie Goddard has a most excellent post on Skepchick (she should write more!), declaring that the atheist movement should care about poverty.

Unless we address the classism and broaden the elitist culture of the atheist movement, the underprivileged students in the Philadelphia public school classrooms that I’m familiar with and in the South Los Angeles classrooms that Sikivu Hutchinson works in will continue to be marginalized and will never have access to the “enlightened” educational opportunities that the movement too often takes for granted.

Some would say it’s not the movement’s responsibility to address poverty and public education. I disagree. This is a movement; we want the world to be a better place than it is now. We want to reduce suffering and foster a just society. If we agree there’s no cosmic justice system and there’s no reward for suffering after we die, we need to effect change here, now, in this life, in this world, for as many people as we can reach. Education is key for change to occur.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I agree completely, and that education is an excellent priority for atheist communities to pursue. She cites the Black Skeptics article I mentioned earlier today, in which they are looking for donations for their First in the Family Humanist Scholarship. It’s a worthy cause, and I donated…you should too, if you can.

Every effort to improve human knowledge is a contribution to atheism, so anything you can do will help; teach a child, donate books to your local library, volunteer at your elementary school. It’s our cunning godless scheme to make the world a better place.

One way to deal with a troll

John Scalzi had a troll infestation from someone he’s now calling the Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit; Scalzi is one of those notoriously liberal egalitarian people, and RSHD would whip up his Racist Sexist Homophobic followers and send them off to rampage through Scalzi’s comment threads.

So what he’s done is announced that he’ll donate money to non-racist non-sexist non-homophobic non-dipshit organizations every time RSHD issues one of his calls to arms against Scalzi. He encouraged other people to join in: he now has pledges for $26,000, all going to organizations RSHD hates.

It’s very amusing. It probably won’t silence RSHD at all, but at least all the hate gets churned into dollars for good causes.

Actually, I know it won’t shut RSHD up, because it’s easy to find out who RSHD is. It’s Vox Day, or Theodore Beale, and Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit is an extremely accurate title for the guy.

Let’s make Houston cancer quack Burzynski pay!

We’re coming up on Burzynski’s 70th birthday — it’s a bit ironic that the man responsible for so many shattered hopes has had such a long life himself — and there is a plan to remind him of the grief he has caused.

Burzynski, if you’ve forgotten, is the guy who claims to have a cancer treatment called antineoplastons, a small set of compounds isolated from urine that he injects at high dosages into cancer patients. These drugs have not had their efficacy demonstrated, but Burzynski keeps cycling through clinical trials, taking the preliminary steps to demonstrating scientific utility, but never quite advancing the results to the point where they can demonstrate significance. He’s cunning that way; by constantly playing the game and running the mill of phase II trials, he puts up a pretense of scientific seriousness, but he never goes further, where his snake oil would be shown to be ineffective. Burzynski’s claims are total nonsense.

What he does do is promise remarkable results, and bilk people out of buckets of money — tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars gouged out of desperate patients — and then go home to his 6 million dollar, gated, wooded estate. Crime does pay, and it pays well. This fraud is living in luxury while his patients pour money into his clinic in the frantic hope that maybe the sciencey-sounding jargon of his well-practiced spiel means they’ll really get a cure.

They don’t. You can read the accounts of the other Burzynski patients — the ones he’d rather you didn’t know about. The Burzynski clinic is a place you go to die, and pay extravagantly for the privilege.

Right now, he and his propagandists are claiming to be doing “Personalized Gene-Targeted Cancer Therapy”, and touting the relevance of information from the human genome project for their treatment. But they’re still just injecting people with concentrated extracts of human urine! The lies are simply outrageous, but nothing seems to hinder him from making them.

Burzynski has plenty of lawyers and has fended off many attempts to shut down his quackery, so what can you do? We can raise money for a legitimate cancer center, St Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and challenge him on his birthday to match our contributions. The goal is to raise at least $30,000, an amount that is minuscule compared to the millions he has bilked from the sick and dying, but the point is to shame the man, and maybe get some money redirected to legitimate hospitals, where it can do some real good.

Read the latest on Burzynski from Science-Based Medicine, and get angry/inspired. Every penny raised does double-duty, making both a contribution to real medical work, and helping to raise attention about this shameless quack.


Gary needs a new pair of shoes

Gary Farber is a blogospherical fixture; a long-time member of the Skiffy community, an entertaining writer, and an all around good guy. He blogged for 11 years at Amygdala, and still holds forth at Obsidian Wings.

He’s also the guy who wrote my favorite piece of negative literary feedback I ever got for a blog post.

And as those of you who have followed him over the years might know, he’s kinda reluctantly used to being broke. Long-term disabilities have made it hard for him to match his income to his outgo. Which leads to situations like this one, which he documented Wednesday on his Evil Empire page:

A few minutes after coming inside from the drenching rain, where I’d put a last piece of garbage in the garbage can, the bottom half of my left sneaker fell off, rendering it unusuable. These were my Last Backup Pieces Of Footwear. This follows the sudden demise of my main pair of sneakers three weeks ago when the plastic in the upright part of the rear right heel completely jabbed through the cloth, turning the plastic into something resembling a syringe, or at least a knife. Since I was now wearing my Last Piece Of Backup Outside Footgear the last three weeks, I’ve been meaning to try to find replacements at a thrift store, or at least get my sizes from a new shoe/sneaker store, as the last time I had myself sized was in the 20th century. I’m now pondering how to get to such a store. Try to temporarily tape up one of these pairs of dead footwear somehow or other for one last use, I guess.

Gary lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, which had an Atmospheric River land on it this past weekend out of which several inches of rain precipitated, which makes walking around in duct-taped sneakers especially poignant. It’s supposed to rain again in a week. It’s hard enough to keep yourself afloat in the US with no real income if your feet aren’t swaddled in moist duct tape.

As someone who’s in slightly better shape — read “currently supporting two people on a freelance writer’s income” — I can imagine being exactly here in about three years. You burn through your personal economic seed corn. I had a good fulltime job about five years ago, and I am still taking advantage of the pair of boots I bought back then with that, um, what was it called? Oh right: “Disposable income.”

At some point in 2015 I may be reaching for the duct tape myself, who knows?

Gary’s got a PayPal account (the Other Evil Empire) reachable through the PayPal buttons in the Amygdala sidebar. A hundred of us giving him $3 each would mean he can get a pair of sturdy shoes and pair of sneakers. It’s maybe not the biggest evil in the world, or the cause with the greatest degree of personal suffering, but come on. He’s one of us. He doesn’t have shoes because he’s fallen through the United States’ otherwise unimpeachable social safety net. That’s just wrong.