A Modest Reponse

Sonnet XVIII, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Sonnet XVIII, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Back in the days of yore when I went to high school, there were two kinds of Literature classes: British and American. With few exceptions, our reading selections were confined to the standard pantheon of a select few dead white guys from England or the United States. Both classes were as predictable as the sunrise; Brit Lit started with Beowulf, then Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales, then one of Shakespeare‘s plays, and probably finished with DickensA Tale of Two Cities. Variety was defined by whether the class read Hamlet or Macbeth. Poetry hit the five or ten standards like an old country church. Not comparing thee to a summer’s day would have been like not singing “Amazing Grace”. American Lit did the same thing for literature on this side of the pond, with Poe standing in for the Bard (“The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Raven” were the old standards).

To round out my English requirements, lo these many eons hence, I took English 262 this semester. World Lit II looked like it would give me something new and fresh, and it’s already doing just that. Among our first selections was “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public“, the 1729 political satire by Jonathan Swift. Of course, in my mind to this point, Swift = Gulliver’s Travels. No matter how hard pressed I might have been, that would have been his only work I could have named, his being Irish and all. I’d read it on my own time as a kid. We’ve since moved a bit further from jolly old England and are now reading pieces by Russians and Germans and (gasp!) some of them are even women not named Dickinson or Bronte.

Our first written assignment of the class was to write a response to A Modest Proposal, organically incorporating the answers to five of the six following questions in the response.

Smoothies for cannibals from DavidDMuir

Smoothies for cannibals, by DavidDMuir @ Flickr

  1. What is “the reading” about? Give the simple and most obvious answer. (Substitute title for “reading”).

  2. Is there an experience of your own of which “the reading” has reminded you? Describe it.

  3. What is the most important “word” in the “reading”? Look it up in the dictionary and define it. Explain your choice.

  4. What is the most important statement or line in the “reading”? Directly quote the line if it is short, and paraphrase if the quote is long. Use an in-text citation that lists the page number (or line number). Explain your choice.

  5. What word, not in the “reading,” would you say best explains the “reading”? Define the word and explain your choice.

  6. Pretend that the “reading” is not about the subject you mentioned in #1. Pretend that there is something else, less obvious, that the “reading” is about. What is this “something else”? Define the word and explain your choice.

My response, for which I received a grade of “check +” (oh how I loathe this system already!), lies below the fold. I suggest you read “A Modest Proposal” first, if you’re not familiar with it, to really understand what’s going on.

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God’s Protection or Selective Memory Loss?

Cementerio St.Giles-Cambridge from Teresa Marín

Cementerio St.Giles-Cambridge from Teresa Marín

The Miami Herald asks, “Is God protecting Fla. at Gov. Crist’s request?”

According to the story, Crist claims he’s sent little prayer post-its to the Western Wall in Jerusalem each year since his election, and lo and behold, no hurricanes have hit Florida since! Is this proof of the power of prayer?

Hardly.

First, Crist actually says that his first note went to the special holy wall in 2007. Florida’s last major hurricane strike came in 2005. How does he explain 2006’s lack of major strikes? Was it just a coincidental off year (or was the request retroactive)? Yeah, ponder that a moment before buying into this purported cause and effect of prayer/no hurricanes.

Second, let’s look at what the governor actually sent on his little indulgence requests and match it to reality. In his own words, he’s sent the exact same note every year, and it reads, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.”

Ok, so Charlie didn’t exactly ask for “no major hurricane strikes”, did he? No, he begged relief “from storms and other difficulties”. Is that what happened? Not exactly.

More below the fold.

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Mr. Deity and the Really Unique Gift

Sharp as usual, boiling the biblical nonsense down to its essence.

Dear Moderate Christian

Pink Rose, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Pink Rose, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Dear Moderate Christian,

I’d like to take a moment to address some of your remarks about how the tactics of “New Atheists” are just too uncivil. I appreciate that you’d like to have a quiet, intellectual conversation regarding the current state of  religion in America, and the marginalization of those of us who don’t believe there is an invisible zombie who lives in the sky. I understand that you’d like me to respect your beliefs, and not shine too much light on their ridiculousness. I applaud your geniality in this matter. It’s refreshing, after so many years of listening to your representatives demeaning and demonizing pretty much everyone who doesn’t bend their neck and genuflect to them. A polite, intellectual conversation about religion in America sounds perfectly lovely.

But at this point in time, I have to say

(What I have to say continues below the fold)

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The Unlikely Disciple’s Unlikely Victim

The Unlikely Disciple

The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose

In the very unlikely event you haven’t heard me squawking about it all over the universe, I’ve got a book review up at Carnal Nation.

“The Unlikely Disciple’s Unlikely Victim” is my review of Kevin Roose’s Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.

An excerpt from my review:

Inspired by a research trip to Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, Brown University sophomore Kevin Roose, raised a liberal Quaker, decided he wanted to know what it was like to live in the world of the fundamentalist Christian. Rather than do his research from the outside, Roose took the extreme measure of going undercover and transferred to Liberty University for a semester. He lived in the dorm, attended the classes, and immersed himself in the student subculture. His research trip takes place in the Spring semester of 2007, and he was there during the shootings at Virginia Tech, and there for the death of Falwell himself. Roose even managed to finagle a one-on-one interview with Falwell for the school paper, just a handful of days before Falwell’s fatal heart attack. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is his story of that semester.

When Chris Hall first asked me to review Unlikely Disciple for Carnal Nation, I was ecstatic. I’d heard about it and read a few short reviews before then, and was anxious to read it myself. I never suspected that by page fifty I’d be slogging to the bathroom with the dry heaves every few pages, wishing I’d never heard of this book. Roose’s account has given me just a glimpse of what trigger warnings are all about.

Read the rest at Carnal Nation.

A Brief History of Moonbats

Lou FCD

Lou FCD headshot by Ben Zvan

Last Thursday evening was a pleasant one. It was mild and welcoming, a good night for a drive to Wilmington. I had been by the University of North Carolina campus there, but hadn’t yet been to visit. I’ve been meaning to head down there to look around for a while now, as that’s where I intend to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Biology. The reason for this trip was mildly ironic given my intentions, as my son James and I were headed there to hear an anti-science advocate speak.

Dr. Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He’s also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a well known creationist think tank whose purpose is to disguise religious doctrine as science in order to avoid the Constitutional ban on promoting religion in public schools. It was Behe that we were heading down to see.

Along the hour and a half drive, I gave my son the highlights of the full history of the Intelligent Design Creationism Hoax, parts of which he’s heard before. (Bear in mind here that I was driving, and not working from notes. I’ll be filling in details as I go that he didn’t get during our conversation.) I began with some background on the history of scientific discoveries in biology since Linnaeus. Carolus Linnaeus was Swedish doctor, a botanist, and a zoologist, who set about categorizing life’s varied forms in his long-evolving work, “Systema Naturae”, first published in 1735.

I touched on William Paley’s rehashing of Cicero’s water clock, and the the obvious logical flaw contained therein. In On the Nature of the Gods, Cicero’s character Balbus, a fictional follower of Plato, posited that because a sundial or a water clock has an obvious purpose, we can then infer that it was designed by some intelligence. Balbus went on to argue that because of the complexity of nature, we can therefore infer that the universe is also designed by some intelligence. Balbus concluded that the universe itself was divine, or possibly that the universe had a divine spirit, a sort of mono/pantheism (Collins 187 – 193). Paley bastardized the assertion in 1802, altering the water clock to a watch, and the deity in question to the Christian god (Paley 5 – 13). He failed however to remove the glaring logical flaw that we only perceive complexity in contrast to simplicity, the watch on the background of the heath. One cannot then use the complexity of the watch to argue for the complexity of the heath without undermining the original argument that the watch is itself complex and inherently different from the heath. This was important for what was to come, and I was later quite glad I had taken the time (we had plenty on the ride) to discuss it with James.

(continue reading below the fold)

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Haggard’s Sexuality is “Complex”, He Says Amidst New Scandal

Ted Haggard, infamous for being caught doing meth and a gay prostitute while preaching his raving diatribes about his god’s hatred of homosexuality, turns out to be polyandrous to boot.

While cashing in on his super-infamy by having HBO shoot a documentary of his life, he told an Associated Press reporter that his sexuality was “complex”. Yeah, I’d say so.

While it’s unlikely that anyone not brainwashed by his mega-money machine was shocked to find out Haggard is gay, or that his incessant attacks on other gay people was anything more than a manifestation of deep-seated self loathing, it may be a minor surprise to find out he is also non-monogamously gay. Ok, probably no surprise there, either.

Turns out he’s also a predator, using his megachurch pulpit as a means of access to at least one young man in the pews.

DENVER – Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard‘s former church disclosed Friday that the gay sex scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard — a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.

Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.

Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.

And of course Haggard’s integrity is above question, right?

Just for a little icing on the cake, the church paid the young man’s college tuition, and got him ‘counseling’, probably of the ‘fixthehomo’ flavor. Of course, the church claims the money wasn’t hush money.

“It wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story,” [current pastor of Haggard’s old church, Brady] Boyd said. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money. I know what’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”

One has to wonder then why there was a stipulation that he not talk about it.

Boyd said the church reached a legal settlement to pay the man for counseling and college tuition, with one condition being that none of the parties involved discuss the matter publicly.

Oh, well then, move along, nothing to see here.

h/t: MoJoey

Buh Bye, Fluff Fluff

Mark Dybul, the man the Bush administration has relied on to spread its fundamentalist sectarian dogma of disinformation and ignorance, has been unceremoniously dismissed.

Sworn in as Secretary of State just yesterday, Hillary Clinton wasted no time cleaning house at the vast department she runs. Today, we have heard, Mark Dybul was asked to submit his resignation as US Global AIDS Coordinator, head of the office in charge of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

This is a huge first step to ensuring the health and rights of all people at risk of HIV and AIDS: Dybul oversaw the last several years of abstinence-only programs funded by PEPFAR, hob-knobbed a bit too closely with the far right, and never saw a law or policy restriction he could not make even more restrictive. Curious for a self-identified Democrat? Not so curious, I guess, if your career is dependent on pleasing the far right, and if your desire to be Global AIDS Coordinator outweighs your desire to stand up for what is right.

Given the fact that this kind of propaganda is known to have led to the deaths of untold numbers of people, I only wonder why there were no handcuffs involved.

h/t Elizabeth Wood

Forced-Birth Lemmings

This video is profoundly enlightening. This is what happens when people just mindlessly repeat what their preacher/priest/witchdoctor/shaman tells them, without thought. The glaring underlying theme of the video, “I’ve never really thought about it”, is horrifying and appalling. The protesters in the video admit to having spent years in the forced-birth movement, and then seem (only) momentarily struck by their own lack of cogitation on the consequences of their goal.

Religion depends on the masses shutting down thought and the woman who refers the interviewer to the guy down the street is a perfect illustration of the abdication of both thought and responsibility that is inherent to blind obedience to authority.

Not one of them has given a moment’s thought to what they are doing or what should happen if they achieve success. It is readily apparent that they are doing what they are told and that whoever told them to do it should be obeyed without question.

These people are nothing more than victims and shock troops, charging the hill in the name of Preacher Joe. I pity them in a way.

h/t PZ Myers

GLBT Community Gets Double Snub

This may at first seem like a rather odd reaction for an atheist to take, but I am personally livid about the snubbing of Bishop Gene Robinson by HBO during Sunday’s inaugural pre-game warm-up. I was already offended by the decision to have Rick Warren brought to the inaugural dinner table, but now I am flat out incensed.

Now, a secular country should not have a state-sponsored prayer to begin with. The First Amendment is pretty clear on the point that the government has no business promoting religion, and most definitely has no business promoting one religion over another. But there is a new administration coming in, an administration that has trumpeted its message of inclusiveness. The new President has bent over backwards to tap the shoulders of people across a wide spectrum of political philosophies, bent over to the point that he has left many of us scratching our heads.

But if the new administration is going to claim it is inclusive, claim to be a government of all people, then why is Rick Warren invited? Warren is inherently antithetical to the notion of inclusion.

Warren is a divisive, mean-spirited fomenter of hate and intolerance. The fact that he wears a nice suit and is very popular does not in any way alter the fact that his message is intrinsically the same message promoted by the likes of Fred Phelps. Warren has no business on the inaugural platform of a President who takes on the mantle of inclusion.

(continue reading below the fold)

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Reaching Across the Aisle

The Constitution in Peril by Renegade98 on Flickr

The Constitution in Peril by Renegade98 on Flickr

I appreciate the sentiment of trying to bridge divides. I appreciate what the incoming President is trying to do, in some ways. I understand he is trying to heal deep, open, infected wounds, and ordinarily I find that admirable.

When a reasonable person reaches out like that, a reasonable person will reach back, and a reasonable compromise will ensue. The real problem here is that when liberals reach out, conservatives just back up further into unreasonableness. Then liberals step forward and reach again. And conservatives back up further into unreasonableness.

I’m done with reaching and stepping. We have reached and we have stepped too far. This far, and no farther. The only thing liberal, reasonable people should be reaching for is huge fistfuls of hair to drag the conservatives back toward sanity. You simply cannot reason a person out of a position they did not reason themselves into.

I have no desire to see further compromise. I do not want my elected officials reaching across the aisle to Republicans except to grab them by the balls and yank them to our current position. Then we should take 50 great big steps to the left, and hold out our hands and wait for them to come to us.

If they don’t, well then fuck ’em.

(Taken from a comment I made on my FaceBook page.)

From whence came the art:

That image is titled The Constitution in Peril, by Renegade98, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 license.

Miracle on the Hudson

Inerrant The Wind

Atheist Talk Radio

Inerrant the Wind

Inerrant the Wind

Minnesota Atheists’ “Atheists Talk” radio show.

Sunday, November 30, 2008, 9-10 a.m. Central Time
Robert M. Price: “Inerrant the Wind”
What has been the modern history of viewing the Bible as “inerrant” – that is, literally true in all its details? Prolific author Robert M. Price joins us to discuss his new book “Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority.”

We welcome questions during the program at (952) 946-6205

“Atheists Talk” airs live on AM 950 KTNF in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

To stream live, go to http://www.am950ktnf.com/listen.
Podcasts of past shows are available at
http://MinnesotaAtheists.org or through iTunes.

Program Notes are available at http://MinnesotaAtheists.org.

What’s It to You?

Campbell Brown Ain’t Buying Your Bridge

The Administration really is living in an alternate reality, as is the entire Republican Party.

(More insanity below the fold, ably addressed by Campbell Brown.)

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Cults

Cults

Cults

HT: Barking Mad

White House Witch Hunters Watch While We Wank

My Grade on my second English 111 essay

My Grade on my second English 111 essay

I got my second essay back this morning in English Class. I missed one comma, but managed an A+. I’m pretty happy about that as I was concerned about length as well as flow. I didn’t think it flowed as well as it could have.

Mr. Beverage disagreed, apparently.

When I showed him the title, he got a great big grin, and gave me specific permission to break the “No Slang” rule.

The prompt was a definition using illustration.

The essay, in its uncorrected form, lies below the fold.

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My Country Bleeds for Thee

My Grade on my First English 111 essay

My Grade on my First English 111 essay

This morning I got back my first English essay, which was turned in on Monday. It was a five paragraph illustration essay on a topic of our choice. English is the last class for which I haven’t gotten something akin to a formal grade letting me know how I’m doing. I did alright, making a few punctuation errors. I have a nasty habit of placing punctuation outside a closing quote mark. I know that’s wrong, I learned it in grade school, but somewhere along the line my brain just decided that’s not the way it’s supposed to go.

There were a couple other places where I inserted or failed to insert a comma where I should not or should have, and I didn’t capitalize “Founding Fathers.” I know exactly what that issue is about. It’s an overreaction to the habit I picked up in German class (back in 1984/85) of capitalizing all nouns. I really have to pay attention to commas and capitalization.

I used the faux-words “Endarkenment” (contrasting with the Enlightenment) and “ignorati” in the essay, and I was a little nervous about whether they would fly. Although Endarkenment survived without comment, Mr. Beverage (his name used with his prior consent) commented next to ignorati: “Nice! I like the contrast to Illuminati!” I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that.

His comment and grade at the end of the paper, as depicted in the image, really made me feel vindicated about my choice of topics and my writing style. His going out of his way to speak to me after class to reiterate his appreciation for my writing reinforced my confidence exponentially.

I’m doing well, and damn it, I belong there.

The essay is below the fold in its uncorrected form.

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This One’s for Hannah

As long as I’m still online in the storm, and my eyes aren’t quite open all the way yet, I thought I’d share a little love, from Roy Zimmerman.

Find all Roy’s videos at his YouTube channel.

Abstinence Only: Reality Denial is an Epic Failure

I am not amused by your pseudo-science.

I am not amused by your pseudo-science.

Cory Silverberg, coauthor of the book I recently reviewed for Sex In The Public Square, The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, offered up a link to A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in the States at the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States on Friday, a week ago.

As Abstinence Only Sex Mis-education goes hand in hand with Creationism and other anti-science propaganda, I set aside some time to read through the report. These issues concern me as a parent, and as a person striving to see that the leaders of tomorrow’s world are not handicapped by pseudo-scientific faith-based nonsense.

Because faith, by its very definition, is based on blind obedience to authority, it is the antithesis of science, which is based on reality and evidence. Authority, whether in the form of a dusty anthology of ancient superstition, a charismatic person of great influence, or an invisible zombie in the sky, need not apply. When science and faith collide, science will always provide the better description of reality, and like it or not, we live in the real world. We need accurate portrayals of reality to make intelligent, informed decisions regarding the health and future of the world’s children.

The good, the bad, and the ugly, lie below the fold.

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