The owner of a Colorado bakery faces legal trouble for refusing to provide a gay couple with a wedding cake — and despite his best efforts, his religious beliefs aren’t helping him in court.
Last July, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig approached Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, to bake a cake for their upcoming wedding. The owner, Jack Phillips, told them his religious beliefs kept him from supporting their marriage and he refused to provide the cake.
“I am a follower of Jesus Christ,” Phillips said in July. “So you could say it’s a religious belief. I believe the Bible teaches [same-sex marriage is] not an OK thing.”
With the help of the ACLU, Mullins and Craig filed complaints with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, according to KDVR. Colorado’s anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In civil court earlier this week, Phillips argued that his religious liberties were being violated, and that his refusal to provide the cake is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
That didn’t work out so well, though; on Friday, Judge Robert Spencer of the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts found Phillips guilty of unlawful discrimination. In what might be the funniest part of this entire case, Spencer noted that Phillips’s religion argument was invalid because he had previously made a cake for the wedding of two dogs. (Can someone please direct me to the Biblical stance on dog marriages?)
The judge’s decision likely means that Phillips will have to change his shop’s discriminatory anti-gay policy. His lawyer earlier said she would appeal the ruling if Phillips lost in civil court, but it remains to be seen whether she’ll follow through.
Last July Phillips also said he would rather close down shop than serve gay couples:
”If it came to that point, we would close down the bakery before we would compromise our beliefs so that may be what it comes to. We’ll see.”
No word on whether he’ll hold true to that promise, either, but we can dream. I’ll take my canine cake needs elsewhere, thanks.
The indefatigable Songdog has been working on some of the issues that have concerned us and many of you; he has shrunk the post titles by 1/3, added space at the margins, and darkened the comment box text (if those of you who were bothered by light text would like it still darker, say so — he says “I can darken it all the way to None More Black”).
On the downside, all pages except the home page seem to be returning a 404; he has opened an urgent ticket with the hosting service and will report back. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope all will be restored to normal soon.
While we wait, a bit of comic relief: forensic semiotics. As my mother used to say, I never thought the subject would come up. (Thanks, Paul!)
She profiles two daughters who broke free from their prison-warden-like parents:
The family’s isolation made it worse. The children couldn’t date — that was a given — but they also weren’t allowed to develop friendships. Between ages 10 and 12, Lauren says she only got to see friends once a week at Sunday school, increasing to twice a week in her teens when her parents let her participate in mock trial, a popular activity for Christian homeschoolers. Their parents wanted them naïve and sheltered, Lauren says: “18 going on 12.”
Her sister Jennifer had it worse. She was vegan, which pissed off her parents (because, you know, the Bible says God made animals so we could eat them).
Lauren and Jennifer eventually got away from their parents, thanks in part to a network of other former-homeschooled kids called Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Homeschooling leaders had dubbed them the “Joshua Generation.” Just as Joshua completed Moses’s mission by slaughtering the inhabitants of the Promised Land, “GenJ” would carry the fundamentalist banner forward and redeem America as a Christian nation. But now, instead, the children were revolting.
The story is strangely uplifting. It suggests that there’s a way out for the upwards of 2,000,000 kids who are homeschooled in ways that border on abuse. But it takes a lot of bravery to get out from parents who go well beyond overprotective. Remember what Lauren Drain had to go through when she (and a few of her siblings) left Westboro Baptist Church? They had virtually no contact to their siblings even though it was their parents they were trying to get away from. It’s not easy to leave, but there’s a better life awaiting them if they do.
The best part of Joyce’s story involves the unexpected way kids are learning to break the spell of the fundamentalist lifestyle. It’s the debate skills that schools like Patrick Henry College pride themselves on teaching young Christians:
For Ryan Stollar and many other ex-homeschoolers, debate club changed everything. The lessons in critical thinking, he says, undermined Farris’s dream of creating thousands of eloquent new advocates for the homeschooling cause. “You can’t do debate unless you teach people how to look at different sides of an issue, to research all the different arguments that could be made for and against something,” Stollar says. “And so all of a sudden, debate as a way to create culture-war soldiers backfires. They go into this being well trained, they start questioning something neutral like energy policy, but it doesn’t stop there. They start questioning everything.”
It’s hardly a joke that teachings kids to expose themselves to alternative perspectives will help them realize how warped and isolated their own lives are. Once you’ve been exposed to a bit of free, it’s hard not to want more of it.
When the weather forecast starts mocking you with single digits, this stew hits all the right notes. Three degrees is simply not enough degrees! Brrrr.
Somehow there was not a single rutabaga recipe on the site! I don’t know how that happened because rutabaga is basically my spirit vegetable. With all it’s purpleness and earthiness and intensity. It’s like a wizened turnip. But if you can’t find any, turnips or parsnips would be great here, too.
Although you typically find rutabaga in European cooking, I love the combination of rooty veggies and Asian flavors. Here the rutabaga gives a great balance to the stew; naturally sweet from the coconut and the carrot, with contrasting lime notes and laced through and through with ginger. The seared Brussel sprouts add extra wintery goodness as well as a fun texture. Chickpeas round the whole thing out (no pun intended) (because chickpeas are round.)
So when life gives you three degrees, make this stew! Serve with some jasmine rice and warm up your life.
Recipe Notes ~I like coconut oil in here for obvious reasons, but any neutral flavored oil will do!
~I’ve been really digging those little 5.5 oz cans of coconut milk. It’s so efficient and there is zero waste. If you can’t find them, then just measure out 2/3 a cup of coconut milk and you’re good to go.
~My brussel sprouts were little so I just halved them. If yours are on the bigger side, quarter them instead.
~The easiest way I’ve found to peel a rutabaga is with your chef’s knife. Place the rutabaga on your cutting board and gently slice away the waxy skin starting from top to bottom. Ingredients 1 tablespoon coconut oil (refined or virgin)
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 lb Brussel sprouts, quartered [see note above]
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tablespoon fresh minced ginger
3/4 lb rutabaga, peeled and diced (1/2 inch)
1 cup sliced carrots
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (1 1/2 cups)
1 5.5 ounce can coconut milk (about 1/2 a cup)
Juice of one lime
Zest of 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Jasmine rice for serving Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute onion in the oil with a big pinch of salt, until onions are lightly browned. Now add the brussels and try to get them lightly seared by making sure that they hit the surface of the pot. So just push the onions to the sides and let the brussels cook, giving them a stir every now and again. It doesn’t have to be perfect and not every single one needs to sear, just do your best!
Add ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and mix in. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the rutabaga, carrots and vegetable broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to simmer, and add the chickpeas and lime zest. Cook with the lid ajar (to let steam escape) until the rutabaga is tender (5 more minutes or so.)
Add coconut milk and lime juice, and taste for salt. Heat through, and serve with cilantro and extra red pepper flakes or Sriracha if you like.
Were he a faceless Internet commenter rather than a five-term member of the House for Texas’ first congressional district, the technical term for Louie Gohmert would be “troll.”
Here’s the man’s latest emission: If atheists wish to continue to be free to profess their unbelief in God, they must help Jesus flourish by encouraging Christians to worship. That’s because only Judeo-Christian values can guarantee atheists’ freedom to be godless jackasses Americans.
That, in a nutshell, is what Gohmert said on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday. Here’s the video, courtesy of C-SPAN and Mediaite:
“No country has ever fallen while it was truly honoring the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So if you were completely areligious, completely atheistic, but you wanted to have a free country, and you wanted to have it safe and protected, then it would sound like — from historical purposes — that it might be a good thing to encourage those who believe in God to keep doing so. Because when a nation’s leaders honor that God, that nation is protected. It’s only when it turns away that it falls.”
Gohmert previously received some lovin’ on Friendly Atheist when he introduced the CHURCH Act, a bill that exemplified the literal opposite of church-state separation by proposing a plaque to honor the religious services that were once held inside the Capitol. Prior to that, we noted that he openly blamed the deadly mass shooting in the Aurora movie theater on the godless state of American high schools.
Many thanks to all of you who shared your December holiday memories on this blog for the recent giveaway called A Simple Gift. I entered all of your names (including one who emailed me off-blog because Blogger Ate Her Comment) in a hat, and chose two people to receive the little cradle babies I made. I wish I could send a cradle baby to all of you. I do plan to make more cradle babies in the future, and perhaps feature them as Christmas tree ornaments for 2014.
The first recipient is Patty in Texas, who wrote, A wonderful give away and I would give it to my eldest daughter who is expecting her first baby. What a sweet memory it would hold for her for years and years. My sweetest memory of Christmas has been each and every Christmas of my 59 years. Each year there has been a memory to treasure. The joy and love of family is a treasure, especially as we gather together at Christmas.
The second recipientis SadieBess in Colorado, who wrote, This is just lovely, as are all of your dolls! I would give it to my 5 year old daughter. She has one of your little purple angels that guards her closet door at night and helps her have sweet dreams. It's hard to single out one holiday memory, but what stands out most to me is coming home from midnight mass and goofing around with my siblings until we finally got sleepy enough to go to bed. Everyone was together, and feeling lighthearted. It isn't one particular toy or other gift that I remember, but being together and having a good time. As I remember those times, I am inspired to make a vow to turn off my computer on Christmas Eve and leave if off the whole next day so that my daughter gets my undivided attention.
Patty and SadieBess, I hope your daughters enjoy their presents!
All content (unless otherwise noted) is copyrighted by Farida Dowler and may not be reproduced in any form except for short passages with proper attribution.
Michael Griffin graduated from Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Later, he taught foreign languages at the school for 12 years. And on Friday, he was fired.
Michael Griffin (via Facebook)
He didn’t do anything wrong. There were no problems with his teaching. He just decided to get married to his long-time boyfriend and the school wouldn’t accept it. Griffin briefly explained the situation on his Facebook page Friday morning:
Today I applied for a marriage license since NJ now has marriage equality. After 12 years together I was excited to finally be able to marry my partner. Because of that, I was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory School today. I am an alumnus of the school and have taught there for 12 years. I feel hurt, saddened, betrayed and except for this post, am at a loss for words. If you’d like to share your words with my principal or headmaster, please do. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
To be fair, Griffin should’ve known this was coming. It’s not like the Catholic Church hides its bigotry (no matter how much Pope Francis tries to divert attention elsewhere).
Griffin says an email he wrote to school administration informing them of he and his partner’s plan to obtain a marriage license is what opened the can of worms and ultimately lead to his firing.
He says that he was blindsided by the school’s reaction and that his relationship with his partner had never been a secret to faculity and administration.
That’s incredibly naïve. Why would you email your Catholic school administrators about your impending gay marriage and then act surprised when they remind you that they’re a Catholic school? Hell, we’ve seen Catholic schools fire single women for getting pregnant. (Though I have yet to hear a story about a single man who gets fired from a Catholic school for wearing a condom or having pre-marital sex.)
That’s not to condone the school’s actions — what they did was despicable. It’s the reason any person with a choice shouldn’t send their kids to a Catholic school or support the Church with their attendance or money. The Catholic Church and Holy Ghost Preparatory School and every other Catholic institution abides by these anti-gay policies. Until they change, they deserve to be spotlighted and condemned.
Griffin should’ve known better. I wish him the best with his marriage and finding a new job, but let’s not pretend like the school did something unexpected. If you work for a Catholic school, its leaders can fire you for loving the wrong kind of person. How is that surprising to anybody?
We’re not talking about a loving, tolerant, compassionate institution. We’re talking about the Catholic Church.
Now that marriage equality has been signed into law in Illinois, the anti-gay-rights Illinois Family Institute is bored. Instead of redirecting their energy to a more worthy cause — like a political science class or maybe yoga — the nonprofit Christian ministry created a sloppy image attempting to satirize the state’s recent marriage victory.
Perhaps more than any other material they’ve ever produced, this graphic proves that IFI have no idea what they’re talking about. If this is the logic that guided their work, it’s no wonder they lost.
The fake label reads “Same-Sex Marriage: Emergency Energy for a Desperate Politician” and the product it’s selling is as like to convince you to oppose gay marriage as it is nutritious.
Here are their “ingredients” for same-sex marriage:
Artificial logic (processed in media bias), concentrated liberal left syrup, breakdown of family (no-fault divorce, abortion, sexual immorality) enriched corporate funds, unnatural biology, evaporated constitutional protections, free love color #1.
I’d appreciate some citations here. Also, properly placed commas.
Perhaps a breakdown of why our logic is so artificial? Or an explanation of how same-sex marriage will lead to abortion and no-fault divorce? How about some numbers illustrating enriched corporate funds? And for the love of Pat Quinn, WHERE can I get some lipstick in free love color #1?! (Which I’m sure the IFI will tell you is “Glitter.”)
Next, in the column where you’d read “Nutrition Facts” on your average Twinkie, the IFI lists “Social Cost Facts” for same-sex marriage (serving size: Illinois). A couple of these are simple regurgitations of your average mindless Christian rhetoric: Political Correctness 100%, Public Emotion 70%, Media Support 200%. That sort of thing.
Others, though, are more infuriating. A selection:
Tolerance for Opposing Views 0g, 0%. No. Intolerance is the unwillingness to accept beliefs or behavior that differ from your own. I disagree with you, but I’m not trying to take your rights away on the basis of your behavior. That’s what you’re doing to me. Go away.
Religious Liberties 1g, 2%. Again, no. Illinois’ marriage equality law, which is literally called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, is one of the most religion-friendly laws of its kind. Under the Illinois law, your church has no obligation whatsoever to participate in same-sex marriages if it doesn’t want to. It actually gets in the way of our ability to consider ourselves completely equal in the eyes of society. Quit your whining.
Interest of Children 0g, 0%.Excuse me?! There are 25,000 homeless youth in Illinois and another 17,000 in foster care. Look me in the eye and tell me the worst thing that could happen to these kids is to bring them into a loving home with two moms or two dads. Not to mention the decades of research proving that same-sex couples are just as qualified to raise children as your run-of-the-mill straight folks. But go ahead. Tell me my gayness is going to ruin a kid’s life.
(Hemant’s note: They would *totally* look you in the eye and tell you that. That’s how awful these people are.)
I love the summary, too:
Total Social Value: WAY Less Than Costs (Can I see your math?)
Morality: Less than OK (Speaking of artificial logic!)
Consequences: Uncalculable [sic] (The consequences do not exist!)
Reading this is exhausting! The kicker to the whole thing is at the bottom right: “Made on logic that also produces polygamy, polyamory, and pedophilia.” Actually, IFI, I’m pretty sure the Bible is all about pedophilia and polygamy, and polyamory is a perfectly legitimate practice that doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the others. Not that you’ll ever take the time to learn that.
For the most part, there’s no use getting worked up over this. Marriage equality is legal in Illinois and the IFI can’t do anything about it; wahoo! Regardless, I extend a heartfelt thanks to the Illinois Family Institute for the laugh and for demonstrating how mindless the arguments against marriage equality truly are. If these are supposed to represent the best arguments the opposition can offer, the dominoes will fall in the other states in no time.
They based their analysis on systematic analysis of a good-sized recorded dataset (23 "native speakers of SoCal English", who were asked to describe a muted video clip and to participate in a "map task" interaction). They distinguished among different interactional functions ("simple statement", "question", "floor holding", "confirmation request"), they systematically noted aspects of the location and extent of rises, and they based their conclusions on a statistical analysis of the interrelationship of these features.
Their main conclusions:
For the when of "uptalk", we found:
Rises were used significantly more often by female than male speakers
Speakers used rises significantly more often during the map task than when retelling the clip of the sitcom scene
Rises were always used to ask a question or request confirmation; 45% of floor holding and 16% of simple statements in the sample also ended in uptalk.
For the realization of "uptalk", we found:
When the rise was used for a simple statement, it began significantly later on in the utterance than when the rise was used for asking a question. In other words, different realizations of the rises were used for different discourse purposes.
The extent of the rise was significantly greater in questions and confirmation requests than in floor holding; in turn floor holding rises were significantly greater than those used for simple statements. Here again we see that different realizations of the rises were used for different discourse purposes.
Female speakers began their rises significantly later on in the utterance than male speakers.
Females used significantly larger rises than males.
From the discussion available so far, it's hard to evaluate these conclusions. We don't know what their criteria were for dividing transcripts into "statements" or other units, or for characterizing units as "simple statements", "floor holding", "confirmation request", etc. We don't know how they defined the starting point and the extent of the rises. And we don't know what they mean by "significantly", i.e. how big the differences really were. This will all be clarified by a fuller presentation of their results, and especially by the (I hope forthcoming) publication of their annotated dataset.
But we do know that it's wrong to imply that this phenomenon is a special characteristic of "SoCal English". The "Map Task" design comes originally from a project at Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1980s, whose annotated recordings were published in 1993 as the HCRC Map Task corpus,, documented here.. And we don't have to listen to more than a few seconds of the first of the 128 sessions to hear final risess of various sorts:
Of course, this might be because the Glasgow speakers in this dataset have the "Urban North British Rise", as well as because the "map task" interaction tends to make speakers more conscious of their step-by-step interaction with an interlocutor. So to get rid of the geographical effect, we can turn to a replication of the map task done in Canada a few years later, and published in 1996 as the DCIEM Sleep Deprivation Study (documented here). Again, the first few seconds of the first of 216 published interactions exhibits various sorts of final rises (the speaker in this case is a 23-year-old male soldier, recorded in 1994 in Toronto):
It would be interesting to compare the distribution of rises in the HCRC and DCIEM map task datasets with Ritchart & Arvaniti's dataset — this would give us a sense of whether there's anything particular to SoCal in this phenomenon. It's possible (and even likely) that there are differences in the phonetics of the rises, or in their interactional functions, or in their relative frequencies. But without such a comparison, we don't actually have any evidence — beyond stereotypes and anecdotes — of a special connection between these patterns and southern Californians, present or past.
And it's not just "map task" interactions where North Americans of all ages, regions, genders, and eras are likely to use rising intonations. Earlier today ("Once so ever") I noted a rise-replete recorded statement by Elytte Barbour, recently arrested for allegedly joining his bride in a "thrill killing":
Mr. Barbour is young (22) but is apparently from North Carolina, not California.
For a sample of older speakers from an earlier time, I took a random dive into the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English. The first thing I listened to was the "Bank Products" segment (sbc0014), recorded 12/22/1993. The speaker is "Joe", a 45-year-old white male from Dupo, IL. He's a loan officer in a small-town bank, and the setting is a loan meeting with two board members. About a third of his phrases end in rises, for example:
From previous experience, I expected that talk-radio-host monologues would be a rich source of rises, and the first Michael Medved clip I sampled (full audio here) did not disappoint:
Michael Medved, born 10/3/1948 in Philadelphia, was 64 years old at the time of this recording.
For an older female speaker, also not from southern California, we can turn to Hillary Clinton's recent speech (video here) accepting the Lantos Prize, in which she eulogized Nelson Mandela:
These last rises may a rather different function from those we've seen so far — although the paired alternatives are connected with "and", and both members of each pair are present with rises, the pairing might be analogous to the "it might be A, or it might be B" disjunctive structures that are often prevented with paired rises and falls. I often find it difficult to assign specific utterances to a classification of rhetorical or interactional function, in part because I'm often tempted to invent a new category, as in this case . So a careful study of inter-annotator agreement (as was done for the "discourse act" classification applied to the HCRC map task corpus) would be a good idea.
For a systematic study of form and function in the (extensive) use of final rises among college-age women Texas in the 1980s, we can turn to Cynthia McLemore's work, described e.g. in "The interpretation of L*H in English", TLF 1991. The implications of this work remain largely unexplored. And here's a 1994 Connie Chung segment that features Dr. McLemore, and uses examples collected by interviewing random (male and female) students at Villanova (near Philadelphia):
I'm always glad to see linguistic research getting extensive media coverage — but the content of the media response to Ritchart & Arvaniti has been more than a little disappointing, for reasons that I hope will be obvious:
Andre Oliver is a young filmmaker from Canton, Ohio who just finished his first autobiographical documentary, Stray From the Flock: The Story of a Black Atheist. It’s not a slick film, but it’s heartfelt and genuine. I think it’s going to stay with me for a long time, which is refreshing amidst so much polished but forgettable movie tripe.
Going by the old auteur’s adage to “write what you know,” Andre makes good use of his easy access to his own extended family. His uncles and cousins and nieces, and his mom, are all pretty comfortable in front of the camera, and they don’t hold back when Andre asks them probing questions about belief and non-belief. See for yourself (this is the whole 51-minute film, not just an excerpt):
Andre’s uncle Jarvis gets the most screen time. Perhaps that’s because he’s the one who occasionally veers close to insight, or at least close to asking a worthwhile question of his own. For instance (2:35):
“Every time that we think that something doesn’t exist — or we think that it’s not there, there’s no evidence — it’s simply because we haven’t found the evidence. Are you searching?”
Good question. Is he? If Jarvis acknowledges that there’s no evidence for God, on what does he base his beliefs?
“If you’re an atheist, you’re probably not searching, so you probably don’t believe it exists anyway.”
But what does he wish his nephew to look for? You can no more blame a man for not searching for God than you can fault him for not spending his life trying to confirm the existence of Bertrand Russell‘s celestial teapot. Besides, searching for God implies a desire — and a bias — to find him. Searching for truth is something else altogether (though the two are not mutually exclusive).
The whoppers keep coming. Jarvis:
“That’s the same thing about air I guess. You can’t see it but you breathe it. It keeps you alive.”
Oy. We know oxygen exists because we’ve long ago charted the photosynthesis that produces it. We know how oxygen aids the respiration and metabolism of humans and other life forms, and we can measure its presence or absence. We can also see oxygen, under certain circumstances. Obviously, no comparable scientific proofs exist to support the belief in God.
This is both the strength and the weakness of Stray From the Flock: Every argument brought up by the interviewees can be easily contested and, in most cases, blown out of the water. Andre, though, doesn’t really debate anyone (the one time he pushes back is when Jarvis says that nothing in the Bible condones slavery, when in fact there are dozens of Bible verses that would certainly seem to do exactly that). It’s instructive to just listen to these people talk candidly about religion and atheism without them getting slammed with on-the-spot rebuttals. At the same time, their misconceptions and fallacies cry out to be countered. I suppose that ultimately, the movie is more of a sociological portrait than an exercise in cerebral gymnastics, and I can live with that.
It’s one of the film’s strong points that Andre addresses, true to the title, what it means to be a black atheist. One example: his mother says, at 18:48,
“I could never understand why a person, especially in black America, would be atheist. Because from the slavery days to all the things we’ve gone through as black America — that a black American would not believe is just unbelievable.”
That’s roughly a hundred times the size of the guilt complex that white Christian parents try to hang on their godless brood.
Andre adds (20:06) that some of his friends have accused him of “acting white,”
“Because apparently, for some fucking reason I don’t know, black people see atheism as a white thing — something that black people just don’t do.
He looks tense and dejected in that scene, but we see a gentler, happier side of him when he playfully interviews his nieces Le’asia and Samyra. Especially Le’asia, the littler one, is a real sweetheart. Though she can’t be more than six years old, she already displays an independent spirit. Going against the leading questions asked by her off-camera mom, Le’asia declares roundly that Andre shouldn’t have to go to church “if he doesn’t want to” (45:13).
But for me, the high point of the movie comes soon after Andre enters delicate territory and asks the girls if they believe in Santa Claus. Le’asia has this bright, fantastic answer (45:40):
I saw receipts on the table.
I saw receipts on the table. How cool is that? That totally deserves to be the next big Internet meme for skeptics — the perfect reply to anyone who tries to sell you a line of pretty bunkum.
Someone please put Le’asia’s observation on a T-shirt. I’ll wear it proudly.
If you’d like to own Andre Oliver’s movie, you can buy a DVD copy here. Want to make a donation to help finance his next project? Right this way.
“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students,” writes Eduardo Porter for the New York Times. This is because a large percentage of funding for public education comes not from the federal government, but from the property taxes collected in each school district. Rich kids, then, get more lavish educations.
This means differences in how much we spend per student both across and within states. New York, for example, spends about $19,000 per student. In Tennessee they spend $8,200 and in Utah $5,321. Money within New York, is also unequally distributed: $25,505 was spent per student in the richest neighborhoods, compared to $12,861 in the poorest.
This makes us one of the three countries in the OECD — with Israel and Turkey — in which the student/teacher ratio is less favorable in poor neighborhoods compared to rich ones. The other 31 nations in the survey invest equally in each student or disproportionately in poor students. This is not meritocracy and it is certainly not equal opportunity.
Friday night, police arrested 22-year-old Elytte Barbour in the November death of 42-year-old Troy LaFerrara. His 18-year-old wife, Miranda, was arrested for the same crime earlier this week. (Via WBRE)
She says LaFerrara groped her and after convincing her to turn herself into police, Elytte defended his wife’s story. (Via The Daily Item)
“I do not believe that this was malicious once so ever, I believe that she was attacked and that under those circumstances she took the necessary measures to defend herself.” (Via WHP-TV)
The phrase "once so ever" is phonetically similar to "whatsoever", at least in fluent speech — but "once so ever" is if anything even less semantically transparent than "whatsoever". So perhaps this substitution shouldn't count as a classic eggcorn, though it's clearly the result of a similar process.
Often, when such substitutions occur in print-media quotations, we have an attribution problem: was the original speaker responsible for the substitution, or did it happen somewhere further along the chain of transmission? In this case, we have a recording of the original quote, and so we know that the substitution took place at the transcription stage (or later):
Everett City Councilor Mike McLaughlin says these questions about Charles Lightbody will not hurt Wynn’s plans.
“I don’t think he has any involvement with this project once so ever. And I think the State Gaming Commission will do whatever is necessary to make sure casino gambling is successful,” McLaughlin said.
This week, NPR published a profile of Taylor Muse, the leader of an Austin-based indie rock band that got their start when they left Christianity. Now, members of Quiet Company pride themselves on music that encourages questioning, or even rejecting, faith and opting for a life of Humanism instead.
Taylor Muse and Quiet Company
Muse, 31, told NPR his adolescence revolved around his Southern Baptist church in Texas. But after he moved away, got married, and discovered Kurt Vonnegut, among other big life changes, he realized he couldn’t participate in Christianity anymore.
“Eventually, I came home from work one day and just told my wife, ‘I think I’m having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I just realized today that I can’t make a case for Christianity that would convince myself,’” he says.
After years of playing in Christian bands, Muse’s realization brought him to Quiet Company, where he and fellow atheist bandmates could write music about life after faith and connect with greater atheist communities. In 2011, they released We Are All Where We Belong, an album about a young man rejecting his religion, and last year they took home 10 honors from the Austin Music Awards.
The refrain from the album title — “where we belong” — is at the heart of Muse’s problem with Christian theology. He says he was taught from the Bible that good Christians don’t store up treasures on earth: They’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven.
“They’re always making the statement, ‘This is not your home, this is not where you belong,’” Muse says. “I wanted to make a record that said, ‘No, actually, this is where you belong. This is your one chance to make your life into what you want it to be. This is your one chance to make the world what you think it can be.’”
According to humanist chaplain and author Greg Epstein, Quiet Company’s music is particularly resounding for atheists, but carries a message universal enough for anyone to appreciate.
Epstein says what Quiet Company did is emblematic of the modern humanist movement, which is not about railing against organized religion, but about being good people and affirming life.
“It’s not an album decrying God,” Epstein says. “It’s an album about what it means to live life that happens to be from the perspective of somebody who knows who he is, and happens to be a humanist and an atheist.”
Indeed, Muse told NPR he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as an “atheist rocker,” even though much of the band’s following is in atheist communities. He openly challenges the stereotype that atheism is all about hating religion, and he says his music reflects his diversity of opinions on the subject — and that he has other things to say, too.
“At the end of the day, what we’re setting out to be is everyone’s new favorite rock band,” he says. “We’re not trying to be ‘the atheist band.’ We’re not trying to be the band that hates Christianity. I wrote 15 songs about atheism. And I said everything I wanted to say.”
I had admittedly never heard of these guys before the NPR piece, but their music, ideals, and general awesomeness seem like things I could easily get behind. I’m sure lots of “favorite rock bands” out there are comprised mostly of atheists, even if they don’t say so out loud. This group is all the cooler for standing up and saying it.
A nice short piece by Ian Monk on the perils of translating your own writing:
…And what good company I was now in—I thought at once of one of my all-time favorites, Samuel Beckett, and how he had continued to write in both English and French, before self-translating his work one way or the other, as required. It was a dream come true. I got down to work…
And what a pain it turned out to be. The further I got stuck into the two texts in question, the more my translations seemed utterly limp and lifeless. And the more I worked over them, the more I felt like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein, with a monster on the slab which was staying stubbornly dead, no matter how many lightning flashes were aimed at its heart. I quickly came to the conclusion that my existence as a writer was never going to be like Beckett’s (for this reason, among a few others…) and if I went on writing in these two languages, then the job of translating them, one into the other, should preferably go to someone else.
Christian blogger John Shore overheard a conversation between a Christian (“Christian”) and an atheist (“Tom”) at a Starbucks the other day. In his retelling of their dialogue, he admits that the atheist “ended up wiping the floor” with the Christian by pointing out the logical flaw with the concept of Hell:
Tom: But what you’re saying simply doesn’t make any sense.
Christian: What doesn’t?
Tom: That if I don’t believe in the reality of the same God that you just told me loves me, then that God will condemn me to hell for all eternity. How could God love me and do that to me?
Christian: Because God loves you enough to let you decide your own fate.
Tom: But that doesn’t change the fact that if I choose to not believe in God, God could, if he wanted, still not send me to hell. He could commute my sentence. He could forgive me for the mistaken choice I made. God has that power, right? Because he’s all-powerful?
Christian: God can do anything.
Tom: Which means he can certainly choose not to send me to hell. And that can only mean that if I do end up in hell, it was God’s will that made that happen. Ultimately God wanted me in hell — so that’s where I ended up. God actively chose hell for me.
Christian: You chose hell for yourself by refusing to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.
You often hear comparisons between the atheist movement and the LGBT movement — the recent increases in societal acceptance, kids getting bullied over their identities, the importance of having “firebrands” and “diplomats,” the whole “coming out” thing — but Chris Stedmanpoints out where the analogy breaks down.
It begins with the discrimination angle:
it’s difficult to sympathize with the idea that issues like “In God We Trust” on our money or “One nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance are at all comparable to the fact that in many parts of the U.S. LGBTQ Americans — transgender Americans in particular — are not afforded essential protections under the law such as non-discrimination in employment or housing.
Thus, it seems untenable to claim that the American atheist movement is a “rights” movement in the same sense as the LGBTQ rights movement. Instead, the primary challenge atheists face is one of social stigma and of being excluded.
That’s not to say our rights aren’t important, but in my years of covering stories of young atheists, very rarely have I heard about kids getting physically beaten up over their atheism. And obviously no one ever stopped atheists from getting married.
Stedman also compares the stigma atheists are up against (distrust) versus that of LGBT individuals (disgust):
Instead of originating from religion, studies suggest that negative attitudes toward gay people are influenced by intuitive, moral disapproval linked to the emotion of disgust… anti-gay attitudes are frequently articulated through the rhetoric of disgust or dehumanization — “homosexual activity just isn’t natural” or “homosexuality is an illness” being two common examples. Sometimes this rhetoric is religious, but it seems to reflect an emotional source that’s ultimately not.
To equate the two, however, is a stretch. Disgust is a very dehumanizing, visceral, and moralized emotion, whereas distrust is not — it’s the difference between denying someone’s humanity and simply avoiding them. This is perhaps why you see serious and widespread anti-gay prejudice in the U.S., but not such violent and frequent manifestations of anti-atheist prejudice.
The point isn’t that we should stop making the comparisons — there’s a lot our movement can learn from the LGBT movement — but that the parallels only go so far. There is one similarity, however, that can’t be stressed enough — when people know someone who’s atheist or gay, they are far less likely to harbor animosity or resentment against them. That’s why we need people who are willing to wear their identities on their sleeves.
Each of us has the ability to change someone else’s negative stereotypes.
Boys and girls who attend the Nichols Elementary School “Winter Party” will not be able to make any reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday. Christmas trees are also banned — along with the colors red and green.
… after a meeting between the principal and the PTA, the school decided to keep the draconian rules in place.
“She [the principal] said they didn’t want to offend any families and since each family donates money they feel this is the best policy,” read an email sent to [state Rep. Pat Fallon].
Fallon is the politician who authored the unnecessary bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry over the summer that allows students to say things like “Merry Christmas” without punishment. (If you’re thinking to yourself, why would anyone ever be punished for that?, you would be correct.)
An unfortunate misunderstanding regarding an email that was sent by a room mom has unfairly portrayed a school and the Frisco ISD as having violated the “Merry Christmas Law.” This is simply incorrect.
The email being referenced was not an official PTA email nor was the school aware of it being sent. The email that was sent by the room mom was sent two weeks before the party planning meeting had even been held. At the party planning meeting held on November 19, prior to any knowledge of the email, the school leaders went over the new law as part of the meeting. Please understand, there has never been a ban on what is worn, what is said, or what is brought to the party…
When the email was forwarded to Mr. Fallon stating no red or green or Christmas trees and no reference to Christmas or another religious holiday, he sent a letter to our Superintendent regarding the law. Our Superintendent called him and assured him these were not our rules. We are still unsure of why the campus and District’s position was misunderstood and why there is the feeling that there is some sort of ban of items or greetings regarding the winter holiday parties at that school.
I can explain the misunderstanding: You see, Starnes is desperate to promote the fake “War on Christmas” and since he can’t find actual stories of people discriminating against Christians, he just makes shit up. It’s Fox News, not the New Yorker.
While we’re on the subject of willful ignorance, Sarah Palin was all too eager to promote the story on Facebook and Twitter.
Say it with me now: There’s no “War on Christmas.” Not even in Texas. There are only liars who love to pretend they’re victims and the gullible masses who believe everything they’re told.
I am not an atheist. Atheists are zealots, too, elevating denial of the divine into a kind of faux religion, complete with pieties, and manage to be as aggressive and joyless as those who at least can blame a higher power for making them the way they are.
Rather, I am an agnostic. Agnostics know what we know but don’t make a fuss. We’re the Unitarians of the nonbelief community.
The reason Steinberg thinks atheists are joyless is because all the happy ones manage to stay away from him.
And when you don’t believe in God, you’re an atheist whether you adopt the label or not.
Then he explains that a reason he shies away from the word is because of a particular atheist activist, Rob Sherman, who rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years from his legally-correct-but-very-unpopular fights over church/state separation along with his healthy dose of self-importance.
I asked Sherman for a response to Steinberg’s column and he sent me this:
Neil thinks that newspaper columnists are the only people who are ever justified in publicly expressing their opinions. Whenever anybody else has spoken out in any other forum available to them, Neil has always ridiculed it as a hostile, belligerent, negative, anti-social act.
However, nobody reads the Sun-Times, anymore, so it really doesn’t matter what Neil says in his column.
The Daley Center Plaza is the People’s Forum for those of us who don’t have newspaper columns to publicize our views. I support the efforts of all those who choose to express their views about theology, or anything else, at the Daley Center Plaza.
It should also be noted that Sherman had absolutely nothing to do with this display. He’s not even an FFRF member. The confusion may stem from the fact that a local news station included him in a segment about the display.
Either way, Steinberg should know better than to judge an entire group of people based on one unpopular member.
But back to the point at hand: What’s the problem with the downtown atheist display?
Steinberg’s ire is really directed at all the religious displays downtown that play into the culture wars, including a life-size Nativity scene, but he saves the headline (“A big ‘A’ on Daley Plaza? That’s the best atheists can do?”) and the first half of the column to just rip on atheists:
… I was not glad to see that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has erected a white plastic “A” at Daley Plaza. “Very Hester Prynne-ish” my editor sniffed, though it stands not for “Adultery” but for “Atheism” and “Agnosticism” and a bunch of other free-thinking concepts.
The distinction I make is between celebration and castigation.
The city tree is a celebration. The creche and the rest, castigation. Protected speech, true, though you wonder what happens when Muslims and Buddhists, Scientologists and Taoists all stake out spots. What the war-on-Christmas crowd doesn’t get is there are lots of religions, and if they all set up shop on Daley Plaza soon there wouldn’t be room for the big faux German Christmas folk village that’s already taken over the place.
Steinberg doesn’t get the point of the displays. Sure you could put up a more celebratory sign, like the Springfield Area Freethinkers did in the state Capitol building last year, but the FFRF’s purpose with the displays was to convince people that allowing religious groups to put displays on public property is a bad idea altogether. And if the Christian groups are going to push for giant Nativity scenes, then you have to fight fire with fire:
“If the government is going to open up a public forum to religion, then it has to permit the nonreligious — nearly 20% of our nation today — to express our point of view as well,” commented FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel said as much in an email to me:
Daley Plaza is government property, essentially the town square. FFRF does not think government property is the place for the divisiveness or strife caused by competing religious messages. We go out of our way to say this every time we erect a display to counter a nativity. But the nativity on government property is precisely the problem. No doubt there are hundreds of churches in Chicago that would proudly display a nativity, but that is not enough. They need to co-opt the power and prestige of the government to disseminate their religious message. They need to display their religion on government property so the legitimacy of the government bleeds onto their particular set of supernatural beliefs. They want to bask in the glory of a governmental endorsement of their religion.
The best way to fight that strategy in a public forum is to dilute the strength of the apparent government endorsement by displaying opposing messages — as many as we can. Often, the government will close the forum, which may have been opened solely to allow the nativity scene in the first place. This is what happened in Santa Monica, Deerfield Beach, and Loudon County.
FFRF would be perfectly happy to see our scarlet letter come down… so long as the other religious displays come down too. But if there is an open forum for all speech, people, including Mr. Steinberg, should expect to see messages with which they disagree. And most importantly, people should stop expecting religious beliefs to be treated with undue, unearned respect — the dark ages have come to an end.
Tom Cara, the President of the FFRF’s Chicago chapter, echoed those sentiments:
We would like nothing better than not having to make that point with our own displays. And we make this clear by telling government that if the religious symbols were not on government property, then neither would ours. So if Mr. Steinberg thinks the only reason we are doing this is to prove to the world that atheists can have fun too, then he is truly missing the big picture.
That’s what this is all about. Steinberg just wants to shit on atheists for something he doesn’t even understand. As he closes his column with,
They want to take their faith, or nonfaith, roll it into a tube and bop the rest of us on the head. It’s not subtle, and not joyous, and not welcome.
There’s no bopping. There’s no aggression. There’s only a display that is no better or worse than every other religious display on the property.
Yet it’s the atheists’ display that’s “not welcome.” The menorah and Nativity scene, I guess, are perfectly fine in his world.
And while we’re at it, Salon‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams made a similar argument against the atheist display, calling it a “petty turf war” — though she at least acknowledged the reasons why they’re doing it. Williams writes:
You think a nativity is inappropriate in a government building or public plaza? Me too. But “freedom” means fighting for what’s right without forcing your agenda at every turn, without forever insisting “Me too!” Rational conversation shouldn’t be a petty turf war. It’s about being a grown-up instead of hiding behind the excuse that you have to pull stunts to effect positive change. It’s about distinguishing between what’s a legitimate infringement and what is simply people of differing belief systems going about the business of celebrating their traditions — and picking your battles accordingly. It’s about striving for less rancor and less noise, not more.
She makes the common mistake of conflating a desire for the same privileges afforded to religious groups with FFRF “forcing” their “agenda” down people’s throats. She won’t say that about the Jewish group that put a Menorah at Daley Center, but atheists are an easy punching bag.
Here’s what really bothers me: She admits that the Nativity display is inappropriate to place on government property, yet she has no clue as to how to make it stop. FFRF does. FFRF’s method has worked in other cities. Turns out the best way to stop Christian displays on government property is to imitate them.
It’s like a parent whose son wears his pants waaaaay too low. You can tell the kid reason after reason why he shouldn’t do that, but nothing will convince him to stop more quickly than watching his dad walk around in public with sagging jeans.
Williams and Steinberg should at least acknowledge the effectiveness of that method instead of just complaining about it. It’s not like they’re offering a better solution to the problem.
“I will say that we get scores of donations on the day or two following an appearance on Bill O’Reilly or ‘Hannity,’” says Silverman, who says he has turned in about 25 Fox News appearances over the years. And since the segments tend to get passed around throughout the year, says Silverman, “they’re the gift that keeps on giving.” Following an O’Reilly appearance, says Silverman, his association receives “hundreds of e-mails,” most of them negative but some “very positive.”… “I don’t think Bill O’Reilly understands how many atheists are watching,” says Silverman. As for all those liberal atheists out there, Silverman says that watching O’Reilly’s show can serve to get them “energized.”
I should point out the obvious: This isn’t a trend unique to atheists. Anytime a group’s representative appears on TV, the exposure helps get their message out to a new group of people. The publicity will sell books if you’re an author and bring in donations if you work for a non-profit.
What makes atheists unique in this regard is that they’re raising money thanks to invitations from the people (or should I say characters) who are on the polar opposite side of the culture wars.
Though, as Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out, they take an ethical approach to all of this right-wing publicity:
… Gaylor refuses to fundraise off of O’Reilly’s hatchetings: “We’re not as good at the religious right at fundraising on phony issues…,” she says. “No, we did not send out a fundraiser asking for money because Bill O’Reilly doesn’t like us.”
They don’t need to send out a fundraiser. The FFRF mentions on his show are enough to get some liberals to give a gift.
Hell, Bill O’Reilly may be the most influential atheist fundraiser out there.
The joke about the woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee in her lap has become a cultural lightening rod, mocked in sitcoms and used to argue in favor of reforming the law that guides civil lawsuits. In fact, the coffee was served 30 degrees higher than coffee made at home. When it spilled between 79-year-old Stella Liebeck’s legs and pooled in her seat, she went into shock. She was burned over 16% of her body, 6% of the burns were 3rd degree. She spent a week in the hospital and had to have skin grafts. When she asked McDonald’s to pay her hospital bills, they refused. Later it came out that the restaurant had gotten many complaints about the temperature of their coffee.
This New York Timesvideo reviews the case, described as the “most widely misunderstood story in America.” From a sociological perspective, it’s a great example of how stories can bounce around in the media echo chamber, constrained by the need for sound bites, and become a cultural touchstone.
Planetary exploration not only brings us astonishing discoveries from other worlds, it inherently leads to innovation, because we invest in solving problems which have never been solved before. That in turn creates new businesses and economic growth. But more importantly, supporting a robust space program raises everyone’s expectation of what’s possible. With a space program, everyone in our society comes to believe and expect that any problem we face can be solved. It’s inherently optimistic. It’s part of our national character.
As Neil deGrasse Tyson said so eloquently in the video below, it isn’t that we don’t have the money to fund NASA properly, it’s that our elected officials have chosen not to fund it properly:
Tis the season for holiday parties! (And maybe just a little over indulging?) This year I got tasked with bringing an appetizer to our yearly neighborhood party. Knowing that the main courses would likely include rather heavy (but delicious! I’m not complaining) mac-n-cheese casseroles and lasagnas, I thought I would bring something with light and crispy endive.
The following post ran on the blog of composer, pianist, and educator Nate May. It is reprinted here with permission.
This morning I made a list of a dozen books I need to read before I start having answers. I’m probably going to have to beat myself over the head with these books, and I trust I’ll be seeing stars before I start seeing constellations. Right now it’s just questions and hypotheses – little openings that I want to crawl into and look around inside.
My overarching project, the way it’s formed itself in my mind right now, is an aesthetics of contemporary Appalachia. Aesthetics in its messiest sense – the mythologies, politics, identities, values, fixations, aspirations, and perceptions that can be harvested and steam-sealed into an art-product (as in, anything that people look to for artistic value, however perfunctory) that for whatever reason smacks of Appalachian-ness. I want to identify it so I can participate in it, and help those who are helping to move it in the direction of conscious, dignified work that has a place in the American and international artistic conversation.
Here’s one hypothesis, one cave-mouth that’s begging to be spelunked: that the aesthetic that we allow to define us is frozen, coated in amber. That those of us who embrace a positive history of the Appalachian people feel we have only one resource to mine that is in demand by the rest of the nation. I’m speaking here of the mountain folkways – the banjoes and dulcimers, the quilts and clogs, the tall tales and moonshine. I want to be clear that this is an incredibly valuable resource, that we are in fact one of the few regions in the country that has a folk heritage as well-known and rich as this. It’s even doing a lot of good for the liberation of an oppressed people. But on the other hand, we seem more concerned with preserving it as it was than engaging with it as it is today. We cling to an image of our idyllic mountain past because it’s the only thing that shields us from the barrage of cultural assaults that face us.
Bluegrass may have been the last major innovation in the Appalachian arts, and people are even surprised that it’s as young as it is (younger than some of the folks who listen to it). Its strength and staying-power lies in a fact that leads me to my second hypothesis. Bluegrass, just like pretty much every important musical style in North America, has origins in African as well as European styles. The banjo itself is an African instrument (I just discovered this site, which documents its storied pan-Atlantic life). Yet black Americans are not a part of the picture that we draw upon as Appalachian heritage. In fact, the most easily accessible picture nationally is that we are purely white and predominately racist. I will never quite forgive Jon Stewart for a segment he did in the 2008 primaries, which showed multiple back-to-back interviews with racist West Virginians, followed by Stewart’s commentary, which involved him putting on a straw hat and drinking moonshine to the delight of the studio audience.
So here’s my second hypothesis: that we undervalue our diversity here. We white-out a significant portion of our history, much to our own detriment. It’s not just blacks who get this treatment, but anyone who diverges from that image of the pioneer white mountain family with its clear gender roles, simple ideas, and little political ambition. We miss out on the reinforcing effect that an embraced multifarious heritage can have on a culture – the same effect that biodiversity (which we can boast as among the best in the world here) has on an ecosystem and that economic diversity (the lack of which has plagued us for centuries) has on an economy.
So what’s the endgame for all of this? Why is this important? It’s important because Appalachia is an oppressed region, and whatever forces – economic, environmental, cultural, political – oppress us from the outside are reinforced by our own self-oppression, our own fatalism. It’s the same colonized mind that Steve Biko recognized among the oppressed people of the apartheid regime – a mind that says, “The current is strong so I may as well swim with it,” or, in the lyrics of Woody Guthrie:
This dusty ol’ dust is a-gettin’ my home
And I’ve got to be driftin’ along.
Aesthetics are vital for survival, for vitality itself. They are as important for the development of a region as roads and bridges, because they are why we travel on the roads and bridges. A people assured of its own strength and dignity can define, demand, and implement its own progress.
I’ll save more of the soapbox material for after I’ve immersed myself in more of its constituent ideas and realities. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from anyone who has ideas to share about this.
Hug your kids, ’cause you just never know, Karen Dunlopreminds us in the Onion:
As a parent, worrying is second nature. You’re constantly afraid that something could go wrong. Your child could get sick, or get in an accident, or even just not fit in at school. Sure, there’s joy and pride and fulfillment, but there’s also an unavoidable stream of dread. And all of these worries of course pale in comparison to every parent’s worst nightmare: losing your child to Gorchul, the Dark Sorcerer of Time. …
Sure, you can line your doorstep with quartz and sprinkle nectar over your child’s bed, as the Glimmer Tome instructs us. You can even bury as many balls of your children’s hair and teeth as you want, or construct an enchanted cairn over each child’s bed with the aid of an uncorrupted thaumaturge. But the reality is, even if you cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s, at the end of the day, you can only do so much to keep your child truly safe because Gorchul is all around us, at every moment, ready to feed off the life force of your child’s soul, enslave him in the shadow world, or, even worse, slip into the empty husk of his body and pose as a demonic imposter of your beloved son or daughter.
In which case, there’s only one option, and it’s a messy one.
At first you think, oh, thank God — my child is safe! But then you realize it’s just Gorchul. And then you have to murder the shell that Gorchul is inhabiting. You have to slit your child’s throat from ear to ear and bleed him out in the bathtub while incanting the aegis rime.
Be very afraid.
P.S. I can’t show a picture of Gorchul (everyone knows that brings a lifetime of bad luck), so I decided to instead illustrate this post with the much cuddlier </span>Krampus, Europe’s old-timey holiday devil, who emerges every year on December 6. That’s today. Lock your doors. You’re welcome.
Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, who will be speaking at the opening of the Humanist Hub near Harvard’s campus this weekend, is an Iraqi refugee whose Secular Humanism is very much at odds with his cultural background.
Earlier this year, Al-Mutar fled Iraq. He received asylum in the U.S., partly due to his conflict with Islamists over his secular humanist identity and partly because his brother, cousin and best friend were killed in sectarian violence there.
After landing at LAX, Al-Mutar spent some months in Houston before moving to Washington, D.C., where he now lives and runs the Global Secular Humanist Movement, a group that aims to use reason, evidence and scientific methods of inquiry — rather than faith and mysticism — in seeking solutions to human problems. On Facebook, the movement has 221,000 fans, and as Al-Mutar speaks at national events, that number continues to grow.
Living in Iraq and founding GSHM, Al-Mutar received death threats from al-Qaida elements and the Mahdi Army, two influential and powerful religious militias operating in Iraq. While it is not a crime to be an atheist in Iraq, religious militias take matters into their own hands.
If you haven’t already seen it, the GSHM Facebook page is an excellent resource for religion news from around the world.
Uptalk has been discussed many times here on Language Log, so regular readers are probably not unfamiliar with it. But one of the most recent Language Log posts on the topic ("Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013) shows how relatively unaware of this long-standing feature of many varieties of English some folks still are. So the media coverage of Ritchart & Arvaniti's work is welcome — and on the whole pretty good, if a little biased toward a "wow, it's spreading to men!" interpretation of the research results, which kinda misses the point. But of course, if you scroll down to the comments (why oh why do I ever scroll down to the comments???), you'll see that many appear to think that the use of rising intonation at the ends of (some!) statements is the clearest evidence we have of the decline of western civilization. Sigh.
In addition to reading my way through Russian literature, I’m also sampling European authors who had an influence on Russian writers, which gives me a chance to acquaint myself with some important authors who had been only names to me. One such is Balzac, who was omnipresent in the 1830s and 1840s but who I’d never read. I decided to try La Peau de chagrin (The Wild Ass’s Skin, 1831), which is one of his more famous and had an intriguing premise (the titular piece of skin grants wishes but shrinks with each one, and when it’s gone, so is the possessor). Alas, I found it quite silly and badly written; I realize Balzac was constantly in debt and scribbling away to sell as much and as fast as he could, but still, I wasn’t impressed. (I’ve since gone on to George Sand, whose Spiridion  I’m greatly enjoying.) However, I was amused and intrigued by one feature of the book: the beautiful but cold-hearted woman who lures and finally rejects our protagonist (who loves her and would do anything for her! how could she!) rejoices in the name of Fœdora. Here is how she is introduced:
Demain soir tu verras la belle comtesse Fœdora, la femme à la mode. — Je n’en ai jamais entendu parler. — Tu es un Cafre, dit Rastignac en riant. Ne pas connaître Fœdora ! Une femme à marier qui possède près de quatre-vingt mille livres de rentes, qui ne veut de personne ou dont personne ne veut ! Espèce de problème féminin, une Parisienne à moitié Russe, une Russe à moitié Parisienne !
To-morrow evening you shall go to see that queen of the moment – the beautiful Countess Foedora…
” ‘I have never heard of her…
” ‘You Hottentot!’ laughed Rastignac; ‘you do not know Foedora? A great match with an income of nearly eighty thousand livres, who has taken a fancy to nobody, or else no one has taken a fancy to her. A sort of feminine enigma, a half Russian Parisienne, or a half Parisian Russian.
Now, where on earth did Balzac get this name, with its bizarre spelling? I’m guessing it’s based on Feodora, thought to be a feminine version of Fedor/Fyodor, which used to be written Feodor in Latin transcription, but the transposed and conjoined vowels make it an enigma indeed. The correct feminine form is Fedora, about which I wrote last year; Sashura has a nice post on “the real Fedora” (in reference to a Kornei Chukovsky poem).
It even shows up that way in Google when you look up “AtlantaFreeThought.com”:
Your call: Savvy marketing ploy or total dick move?
I contacted North Point a few days ago to find out if they seriously purchased the atheists’ domain name just to trick people looking for their site to visit the church’s instead. Chris Ames, the leader of their web team, was quick to get back to me with a definite denial:
First and foremost thank you for bringing this to my attention. Tactics of this nature are disingenuous and disrespectful, and I’d like to find the person behind it.
A WhoIs lookup didn’t offer much insight, either, but suggested to Chris that it didn’t originate from the church since they didn’t use Domains by Proxy to hide ownership of their domains. There was an email address on file with the URL, though, so Chris sent a message asking the person behind it to just get in touch with him.
Without a conversation, whoever received the email has already changed the redirect. Now, it goes straight to a video of Richard Dawkins at the Reason Rally telling the crowd to ridicule believers… along with a response from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias.
Chris was quick to tell me:
I was very discouraged to see that this person has changed the redirect, and he seems content on moving in a belligerent direction. I just wanted you to know that I do not condone his actions.
The world needs more peacemakers, and fewer polarizers.
I appreciate his response. It’s good to know the church’s staffers didn’t purposely pull a move like that, but it still leaves up in the air a lot of questions.
Who did it?
Does that person really believe someone wanting to learn more about an atheist group would suddenly become a Christian after getting redirected to a church’s website?
And who the hell still types URLs directly into their browsers instead of just going to Google?
If any of you get to the bottom of this, please let me know!
Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday, is best known for his fight against South African apartheid. But his long walk to freedom also included steps toward solving this mammoth problem called climate change. He envisioned a world where all people are able to live a fully dignified life, with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink — and where poor countries are not left with the repercussions of rich nation’s dirty ways.
Six years ago, Mandela founded The Elders, a cross-cultural group of leaders from across the globe, including former President Jimmy Carter and former United Nations Chief Kofi Annan, to forge human rights-based solutions to worldwide problems. One of the group’s top priorities is climate justice, which is not only about reducing greenhouse gas emisssions, but also about ensuring the protection of those people and regions most vulnerable to the worst of climate change’s impacts.
The morning of Mandela’s death, the first thing I read when I woke up was a New York Times op-ed from Bjorn Lomborg stating that what the world’s most vulnerable “really want” is something that would leave them even more insecure under a destabilized climate: cheap, dirty, coal-based energy. Lomborg cited South Africa — where Mandela lived, fought, was imprisoned, and bled for a better life for his people — as an example of a place where people want this dirty fuel.
Mandela never bought into that line of thinking. He was fully aware of how global warming had already been causing havoc on his continent, destroying through oppressive heat what Europeans hadn’t already decimated through the oppressive regimes of slavery, colonization, and apartheid.
While Mandela and countless other peers such as Kwame Nkrumuah and Steve Biko were able to help Africans overcome some of these regimes, the heat created from them still remains. The pillaging of Africa’s natural resources through mining (oil, coal, diamonds, etc.), deforestation, and other European industrialized forces led to the ramped up blasts of carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat in the atmosphere, reconfiguring ecosystems and destroying habitats all over the planet. If Europe’s quest to exploit and export Africa’s most valuable goods wasn’t enough, the continent must now suffer the import of the worst of climate change’s assaults to boot.
It’s for these reasons that Mandela aligned himself with other South African leaders who want to move beyond the oppressive extractive industries of the past and toward a cleaner, more sustainable economy, as I explained in my response to Lomborg yesterday.
In an op-ed last month, Kofi Annan wrote: “It is essential that governments start phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which currently account for about $485 billion a year, and are far greater than the global investment in renewable energy. While cutting subsidies is an issue for developed and developing countries alike, it remains true that the Group of 20 countries accounted for 78 per cent of global carbon emissions from fuel combustion in 2010.”
An appreciation for the beauty and subsistence of nature is not something that occurred to Mandela in just the final years of his life. During his 27 years in jail, he fought to have a garden installed on the roof of his prison, where he and his fellow inmates could grow vegetables for their meals. “To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction,” he wrote in his autobiography. “The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”
This thinking was consistent with the African freedom fighter Amilcar Cabral, whose liberation ideology was grounded in giving Africans agricultural and sustainable development skills, so that they could subsist from their own work.
Over the past decade, one of Mandela’s prime missions was giving Africans access to clean water. In his 2002 “No Water, No Future” speech to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Mandela said, “That our government has made significant progress in bringing potable water nearer to so many more people than was previously the case, I rate amongst the most important achievements of democracy in our country.”
This spirit was championed by the Nobel prize-winning, Kenyan environmental leader Wangari Maathi, who had the opportunity to address Mandela on his birthday in 2005. In that speech, Maathi said:
During the last thirty years of working with the Green Belt Movement I saw the need to give our people values. The man whose birthday we celebrate today exemplifies these values. For example, the value of service for the common good. How shall we motivate our men and women in the region, willing to sacrifice and volunteer so that others may have it better? The values of commitment, persistence and patience, to stay with it until the goal is realized … The love for the land and desire to protect it from desertification and other destructive processes.
Maathi said that Mandela’s life was inspiration for her own work, as did fellow Kenyan (or American of Kenyan heritage) Barack Obama in his statement on Mandela’s death yesterday. Mandela’s influence continues to captivate many other climate justice, environmental justice and social justice leaders across the globe. 350.org leader Bill McKibben cited the divesture campaigns against apartheid as the blueprint for his movement’s own strategy against the fossil fuel industry.
But it’s important that, in considering Mandela’s legacy with climate change, we remember the justice component. In The Elders’ strategic framework plan for 2014-2017, under the goal of eradicating poverty and increasing sustainable development, is a strategy for achieving climate justice. It reads:
“We will highlight the impact of climate change, and the degradation of natural resources, particularly on poor people, and emphasise the need for inter-generational justice – not expecting future generations to pay for present irresponsibility.”
For world leaders to disregard this would be a dishonor to what Mandela lived for, as would any call to increase fossil fuel use in South Africa or anywhere else in the world. Those who continue to fight for climate justice should feel proud that a giant like Mandela included it in his steps in that long walk toward freedom for all people.
Yeah, yeah, Google street view’s pretty cool — you can see the world and catch people making out, all from the comfort of your couch. But who needs Google now that you can buy the Bublcam?
Bubl is a Toronto-based company that just raised $300,000 on Kickstarter to market its 360-degree camera. (Its technology is the same used in Google street view; this is the consumer version.) For a mere $468 — ha! pocket change! — you can be one of the first to take 360-degree, high-def photos and stream panoramic videos live with something the size of a baseball:
The four-lens camera is great for all those skydiving trips you take. Or all that bike and pedestrian route mapping you do. (What a dedicated city servant.) Just think of how much better time-lapse nature videos are about to be. Buy one, and then let us borrow it, k?
Chris Godfrey, design student, knows what gamers want: to play the games they got as presents on Christmas and not interact with other humans beings who are not currently also engaged in playing video games. Therefore, he created Christmas Tinner — one can containing all the processed food a person would need to achieve some approximation of eating a traditional Christmas meal. It’s like the gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except hopefully it will not turn you into a sugarplum.
The product consists of nine layers of processed festive food, including scrambled egg and bacon, two mince pies, turkey and potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts or broccoli (for those who don’t like sprouts) with stuffing, roast carrots and parsnips, and Christmas pudding.
Objections to this product: Salt content through the roof, eating home-cooked meals with extended family is sort of nice and occurs only a few times each year, what happens when the broccoli accidentally gets mixed into the Christmas pudding, why scrambled eggs??
Praise for this product: The proportion of vegetables is encouragingly high, and the ability to make a choice on the green vegetable is kind of endearing.
Conclusion: Superior to Domino’s, which recently researched gamer behavior and found, according to the Telegraph, “gamers will do almost anything to carry on playing” and are thus willing to eat pizza tomato-sauced cardboard masquerading as food.
Earlier this week, a pod of short-finned pilot whales wandered too far from their home range and started stranding themselves in the shallows and shoals on the Florida Coast. Ten of the stranded whales died, but there were 41 others of their pod still alive and still at risk of stranding themselves. But they wouldn’t abandon the members of their pod who had died.
Rescuers had difficulty on Wednesday trying to persuade the surviving whales to leave their dead podmates and head out to sea. In most cases, highly cohesive species such as pilot whales refuse to leave their kind, no matter the risk to themselves.
“They seem to feel for each other,” said Lori Marino, a professor of neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University who has studied cetacean and primate intelligence. “Their whole sense of self is distributed across the group. They take social bonding to a new level. They don’t abandon each other.”
Eventually, the 41 remaining whales made it safely out to sea, but not before sharks had found their dead pod mates. Researchers are worried, though, that the pod may have contracted a virus that’s been killing dolphins along the Atlantic coast: Six of the remaining whale were “unaccounted” for on Thursday, the Times says. At least they probably aren’t alone.
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, alsofeatures a discussion of the surprising reasons that U.S. students are so bad at math (just 26th in the world, in a recent study). Plus, Indre takes apart a highly controversial new study purporting to show that male-female gender stereotypes are rooted in different wiring of our brains.
It’s flu season. And we’re all about to crisscross the country to exchange hugs, kisses, and germs. We’re going to get sick. And when we do, many of us will run to our doctors and, hoping to get better, demand antibiotics.
And that’s the problem: Antibiotics don’t cure the flu (which is viral, not bacterial), but the overprescription of antibiotics imperils us all by driving antibiotic resistance. This threat is growing, so much so that in a recent widely read Medium article, Wired science blogger and self-described “scary disease girl” Maryn McKenna painted a disturbingly plausible picture of a world in which antibiotics have become markedly less effective. That future is the focus of McKenna’s interview this week on the Inquiring Minds podcast:
“For 85 years,” McKenna explains on the show, antibiotics “have been solving the problem of infectious disease in a way that’s really unique in human history. And people assume those antibiotics are always going to be there. And unfortunately, they’re wrong.”
Here are some disturbing facts about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance:
1. In the United States alone, 2 million people each year contract serious antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die from them.
These figures come from a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on antibiotic resistance that, for the first time, uses a blunt classification scheme to identify “urgent,” “serious,” and “concerning” threats from drug-resistant bacteria. The CDC currently lists three “urgent threats”: drug-resistant gonorrhea, drug-resistant “enterobacteriaceae” such as E. coli, and Clostridium difficile, which causes life-threatening diarrhea and is often acquired in hospitals. Clostridium difficile kills at least 14,000 people each year.
2. We’ve been warned about antibiotic resistance since at least 1945. We just haven’t been listening.
From the very first discovery of antibiotics, scientists have known that resistance is a danger. Alexander Fleming himself, credited with the discovery of penicillin, warned us as early as 1945 that antibiotics could lose their effectiveness. His eerily prescient Nobel Prize speech cautions that “there may be a danger, though, in underdosage [of penicillin]. It is not difficult to make microbes resistant to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them, and the same thing has occasionally happened in the body. The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and, by exposing his microbes to nonlethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”
3. Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are on the rise.
Clearly, antibiotic resistance is not a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, the frequency of these “antibiotic resistance events” is increasing. For example, from 1980 to 1987, cases of penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae (the bacteria that causes pneumonia) remained steady at about 5 percent of all strains. By 1997, 44 percent of strains were showing resistance. Similarly, Enterococci bacteria can cause urinary tract infections and meningitis (among other diseases), and in 1989, fewer than 0.5 percent of strains found in hospitals were resistant to antibiotics. Four years later, though, that number was at 7.9 percent, and by 1998, some hospitals reported levels as high as 30 to 50 percent. “The more antibiotics are used, the more quickly bacteria develop resistance,” says the CDC.
4. There has been a steady decline in FDA approvals for new antibiotics.
And even as more bacteria are becoming resistant and our treatments are becoming less effective, we’re also producing fewer new drugs to combat infections. One figure says it all — a clear downtrend in FDA approvals for antibiotics began in the 1980s:
Why has this happened? “There’s a kind of curve to antibiotic development,” says McKenna, noting that there was a boom in the 1950s, when Eli Lilly collected samples of biological materials from all over the world in order to capture antibiotic properties in natural substances. By the 1980s, though, much of the low-hanging antibiotic fruit had been harvested. Now, the development of new treatments is becoming increasingly difficult and costly, even as pharmaceutical companies are cutting R&D budgets and outsourcing drug discovery more and more. “The faucet from which [antibiotics] come has been turned down and down and down and now it’s just a drip,” McKenna says.
5. As many as half of all antibiotic prescriptions either aren’t needed or are “not optimally effective.”
A huge part of our problem is that we’re misusing and abusing antibiotics. “Resistance is a natural process,” says McKenna, but “we made resistance worse by the cavalier way that we used antibiotics, and still use them.” Sick patients pressure their doctors for drugs, and doctors too often yield and dash off a script. Indeed, a recent study found that doctors prescribed antibiotics 73 percent of the time for acute bronchitis, even though, as Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler reports, “antibiotics are not recommended at all” for this condition.
Adding to the evidence of misuse is another statistic: According to the CDC, almost 1 in 5 ER visits resulting from adverse drug events are caused by antibiotics. Children are the most likely victims. Despite the fact that antibiotics are generally safe, they can cause allergic reactions and can also interact with other drugs, harming patients who are vulnerable because they already suffer from other medical conditions. So if we stopped overprescribing antibiotics we’d not only head off resistance, we’d also lessen adverse drug effects.
6. And it’s not just human medical misuse — a large volume of antibiotics is inappropriately used in livestock.
Antibiotics are also often used in the agricultural industry; in fact, there is reason to think that more antibiotics are used to treat animals than to treat people. And these livestock drugs are not just used to fight off infections, but are often fed to animals in smaller doses to encourage weight gain and growth — a practice, the CDC says, that is “not necessary” and “should be phased out.” A recent draft document from the FDA similarly states that “in light of the risk that antimicrobial resistance poses to public health, the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals for production purposes does not represent a judicious use of these drugs.” For now, though, the FDA’s approach to curbing this threat has been limited to issuing voluntary guidelines.
7. Before antibiotics, death rates were much higher from very common occurrences like skin infections, pneumonia, and giving birth.
In her Medium article, McKenna gives some disturbing stats. Just giving birth could be deadly: Five out of every thousand women who had a baby died. Pneumonia killed 30 percent of its victims. And “one out of nine people who got a skin infection died, even from something as simple as a scrape or an insect bite.” If we run out of antibiotics, our future looks rather bleak.
8. The next major global pandemic may involve an antibiotic-resistant superbug.
For millennia, infectious diseases have reshaped civilization, culled our species, and spread fear, superstition, and death. But over the last century, we haven’t seen anything as devastating as the 1918 global flu pandemic, which killed some 50 million people around the world.
But with drug-resistant bacteria, the threat rises. “Plagues still really have power and almost a hundred years later, we shouldn’t think that we’re immune to them because we’re not,” warns McKenna. For instance, tuberculosis kills over a million people a year, and it is becoming increasingly drug resistant, according to the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, although the 1918 flu was of course caused by a virus rather than a bacterium, recent research suggests that most victims actually died from bacterial pneumonia. Viruses can weaken our immune systems just enough to allow bacteria to take hold and, often, death results from secondary bacterial infections that, at least until recently, were largely curbed by effective antibiotics.
So are we doomed to recede back into a time when infections were the most significant health threat that our species faced?
According to McKenna, it is not clear that we can fully curb antibiotic overuse. So the better approach is to get the drug industry research engine firing again. “There’s a really active discourse around what’s the best way to get pharmaceutical companies back into manufacturing antibiotics,” she says.
Our future, then, once again lies in the hands of scientists, whose quest to find new treatments for drug-resistant bacteria is now of the utmost importance.