Friday, January 23, 2015

Dribs and Dabs

I had very high hopes to make posting to this blog at least a weekly event.  Alas, events have conspired to keep me away from the keyboard for prolonged periods these last few weeks.  The end is in sight, so hopefully more blogging (and work on the damn book) will be in order.

One issue that has successfully been rectified is my medical condition.  Being an older guy, I knew that I could be susceptible to any of a number of ailments to affect the male plumbing system.  I started having issues this fall, and was convinced that having to urinate on average 317 times a day wasn’t normal or productive.  So I made an appointment to see my doctor.

I did my due diligence on the matter, and researched my options.  For the record, let me state that a number of years ago I dropped a very good local doctor because he was a pill-pusher, convinced that any ailment, severe, slight, or imagined, could be dealt with by a pill, or two, or more.  His office looked like a stockroom with samples from every traveling salesman that came through town.  When he suggested that I start on alpha-blockers for my blood pressure, I asked him if my readings were out of whack that much.  “No,” he replied, “but we don’t want them to get dangerously high.”  “Wouldn’t a change in diet do the same thing?” I asked.  “Well, yeah, but with this you won’t have to forgo the foods you eat.” (Yes, he did sound like a commercial).  At the time he was high on the Atkins Diet, but he was higher on the pills.  I saw him once more – my blood pressure was lower than before, and he weighed 20 more than before (he went off Atkins, calling it a sham), and he wanted to get me on more pills. 

So despite the previous experience, I was hoping that my doctor would prescribe something to ease the pressure, so to speak.  And to my relief, he did.  And a week into the change, I can say that, so far, all seems good.  The drugs (terazosin) seem to do the job (and I could get the generic kind, so I save money), there were no side effects (not even the 4-hour-boner*, which I guess is a standard warning on just about every kind of male-based prescription nowadays…or so it seems), and if I have to be on something every day for the rest of my life, I could do worse.

Now, I can tackle the rest of what’s hampering my progress – everyone else.  That’s grist for the next post.  For now, I gotta pee.

* I must admit, I don’t know who was more disappointed in this – me, or my wife.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

True North on a Moral Compass

This one has been stewing all week.  So much has happened in the aftermath of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and so much has been said, that I needed to put down on paper how I truly feel.  It’s not easy.

You’d think it would be.  Sure, I sympathize with all of those who deplore what happened.  No one should have to die for what they believe in.  Fact is no one should have to die.  Yes, we all die, but taking a life is one of those supposedly sacrosanct acts that everyone agrees on.  Except we don’t, and that’s the problem.

I am not religious, yet I try to run my life my one of the oldest morality codes known - the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc.).  If you’re like most folks, Rule #6 in the Ten Commandments is familiar:  “Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Note that there is a period at the end of the sentence.  No asterisk.  No footnote.  It doesn’t say “Thou Shall Not Kill, Unless…”  It says don’t kill (or in some translations, don’t murder).  Period.

It doesn’t matter what the “good reason” you might have.  Don’t kill.  Pretty simple.

Except - you and I know that right off the top of our heads, we could think of a scenario or two where we might think, “But…there ARE exceptions.”  Sure - if someone is threatening a loved one, or you, and harm is imminent, and it’s either kill or be killed - sure, lots of you are nodding your heads.

Me too.  I’d love to say, “No, I would try to reason…”  Or maybe, “I would not kill, but stop them somehow - aim for their trigger finger…” (this is hysterical at my house as I have a vision issue that leaves me with lousy depth perception, so sighting a rifle is more dangerous to me than to anyone on the other end).  Still, I am saying that I might certainly harm someone if they were trying to harm me.  You might have some other scenarios that you could justify.

Without a doubt, I would not harm someone who drew a cartoon, no matter what the subject.  I would also not harm someone who was thinking about harming someone who drew a cartoon.  But we’re not there yet.

Go back to the “Thou Shall Not Kill” thought.  Go further, and say, “Thou Shall Not Harm.”  Now, we’re really screwed.  Because while we can all agree on the definition of “kill,” we can argue until the sacred cows come home about “harm.”

Certainly, there are those who could argue that a cartoon can harm.  I’d disagree. But here we are.

No one has a moral compass that points to true north.  We’re all a little off, some more so than others.  How we deal with that difference is why we’re here, and where we go from here defines us as human beings.

As for me…I think that one of the most important items in our arsenal to bring the world together is communication, and the idea of “free speech” is paramount.  As is understanding (which can’t occur without free speech, BTW).  This includes the use of humor, parody, and satire, both of which have been found to be powerful influences that aid in understanding.

I saw in awe and watched the outpouring of support immediately after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.  Across the world, people proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie). I was not certain if I would be that brave, to continue to speak my mind in the face of a potential death sentence.

I now realize that I have no say as to how, and when, I die.  Therefore, I have no other choice but to speak. To not do so would be the death sentence.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Critical of the Critics

Imagine this – you’re a big-time newspaper editor, in need of a reviewer for a new Barbecue cookbook.  You choose Fred, a life-long Vegetarian who thinks people who eat meat are the scourge of the earth.  Do you think they’ll be able to do a credible job?  A fair assessment?

Are you nuts?

So explain to me why The Wall Street Journal picked Naomi Schaefer Riley to review Atheist Awakening, a new book by Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith? (Cimino teaches sociology at the University of Richmond and has authored several books about Religion; Smith is an independent researcher).  Sure, WSJ mentions at the end of the “review” that “Ms. Riley is the author of ‘Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back’.”  But they failed to mention that she has written more than just “a book” (five, including another favorable to religion), and lots of articles for the New York Post (same owner as WSJ now) that are pro-religion and anti-atheist, including this one.

Now before I go on to discuss why it’s probably unethical to have a pro-religion critic of an “examination of atheists” book, a couple of full disclosures: 

  • I do not regularly subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, but for some reason just received a one-month trial subscription.  Trust me when I say that, politically, economically, and just about any other-cally, I am one of the LAST people to want the Journal.
  • I am, by self-labeling, a Type Two Atheist.  Type One is the Richard Dawkins/Sam Harris anti-religion crowd, atheists who make a point in slamming religion because it is religious.  Type Two folks like me just are not religious, have no need for it, and don’t make it part of our life, culture, etc.  That’s not to say that I can’t be critical of topics with religious applications, but in general it’s for reasons other than “it’s religious.”  For example, I decry calls to “return America to its religious roots” not because it’s religious, but because it is historically inaccurate (USA was not founded as a Christian nation, so you can’t return to what you never were).

Like the vegan critical of a pulled-pork recipe, Ms. Riley skewers the book.  I think.  It’s hard to tell, really, and that’s the other criticism I have about this review.  Riley’s writing style is such that it’s difficult to determine when she’s reviewing about what is actually in the book versus when she’s just hyperventilating critical of the atheist movement in general.  She writes almost as much about Richard Dawkins as she does Cimino and Smith, and mixes quotes from the book with other argumentative comments to give the impression that this is the opinion of the book authors. 

She offers (so it seems to me) her own views on what is and isn’t an atheist (how convenient) near the end of her review:
Such ideals (atheist ‘churches’ and rituals discussed in previous paragraph of review) may appeal to some of the young adults who have abandoned religion, but the vast majority of the unaffiliated are not atheists as such.  They are simply disaffected and indifferent, and many are uneducated about religious doctrine. They have no biblical literacy and embrace the shallow notion that good behavior is relative and that being ‘judgmental’ is the big problem in life.

In a word, Jesus (as a word of exasperation, not an answer nor a curse).  For most of the atheists I know (including myself), it was because of our education about religious doctrine and the Bible (self-directed, usually; certainly NOT from religious leaders or “scholars” save for folks like UNC Professor Bart D. Ehrman).  The more we learned, the more we pushed against religion.  In my opinion, those that rely more on faith than reason do so because they have lack a certain capacity to reason.  At least, about religion.

I did not link to her review because it’s behind a subscription wall.  But I will link to some other reviews here, here, and here, and provide the last few sentences of a review from Publishers Weekly:
This is a meticulous study that embeds atheist community in a larger context of subcultures, showing identity formation, the assertion of that identity, and the need to be included. The authors excel in demonstrating the inevitably social dimensions of human identity.

I admit that I have not read the book.  In reviewing Riley’s review, I am somewhat doubtful that she did, either (much of what she comments on I read in the free preview from  On Amazon, the book was described thusly: “This groundbreaking study will be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the growing atheist movement in America.”  Riley’s review certainly lacked understanding of either atheism or the book itself.  I suspect that was her true motivation.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Everyone Hates Sheldon

Well, everyone that might read this, sure.  But that’s not really the issue – the question is, “Who Likes Sheldon?”  More specifically, who is following his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling Facebook page?

I wondered this a while back, and wondered again once our little Coalition to Counteract the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (also known as the Coalition to Stop His Bullshit) went over 100 members.  Their FB page has more than 5000 followers, or “Likes.” (5,536 as of this writing).  But who are these folks?

Much has been said and written about the groups that are part of his coalition (they call ‘em “members” – the list is here).  They are mostly family or faith oriented groups that are generally against ALL types of vices and sins – Internet gambling to be sure, but also LAND-BASED casinos, which makes them strange bedfellows with Adelson and his minions.  Though it’s not the first time the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” factor has been a part of gambling legislation. 

I made fun of some of these groups last week on our C4SIG FB page, including those groups who are NOT totally anti-gambling (Texas Association of Business is a STRONG supporter of gambling…in Texas).  But now I want to look at the “common folks” who follow the CSIG Facebook page. 

I was initially convinced that most of the followers weren’t “real” (we once found a post from a follower who commented positively on a post who seemed phony – their page was mostly blank and “she” listed her gender as male...hmmmm).  Certainly, the majority of comments to their posts are members of our Counteract group, not Sheldon’s followers.  No wonder the comments don’t automatically show.

Still, who ARE these people?  I did a search on their followers (not the easiest thing to do given Facebook’s privacy issues), but, over time, I was able to look at a brief summary of about 20% of the group (1,024 to be specific - it takes forever to load it all – the 20% took about 30 minutes or so).  And it was only a cursory look at who these people were (I did take an extended look at some of them – we’ll discuss this later on).  But still, I learned a few things.  By doing some global searches I found:

Almost 13% (131) who mentioned “The Bible” (only 19 mentioned “God” and only 4 “Jesus”).  Our group only has 1 Bible, and no other mentions.
Many “Likers” also liked several other pages.  I mean a LOT of pages.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  One FBer liked 9,105 pages (Kardashians, PatrĂ³n Tequila, NBA Rumors, American Energy Alliance, and “The Wood” movie, among others).  But the record holder is a guy with 276 friends and likes 13,585 groups.  That has GOT to screw up his news feed.
Only one Sands Corp employee (it was Andy Abboud!).  Oh, and Cheri Jacobus was in there, too.

This doesn’t tell us a lot, so I decided to open up some of the followers’ pages to learn more about them (again, Facebook has some privacy issues, but thankfully for this exercise few actually enacted those privacy controls, so I could see a lot about them without having to “friend” them).

Here’s a brief summary – those who I peeked at seem like a cross section of America.  They were old, and young; married, and single;, black, and white; and many different religions were represented (and I did find one committed atheist).  To be sure, there is a tilt towards the right, and many show strong family and/or religious ties.  But they are also BIG sports fans – most of the pages I checked had two or more teams they follow (pro sports, mostly – football was BIG).  They like music.  They follow a variety of different groups.

And they play games.

Slightly more than half of the pages I looked at showed three or more games that they played, and here’s the kicker you’ve been waiting for – yup, some of them played social gambling games.  Slotmania.  Blackjack.  Bingo.  The #1 game was Candy Crush of course, but a fair number of gamers were gamblers.  I failed to see a poker game in the limited time I spent with these pages, but it could be that they play poker at home, or at the club or casino (or not at all, but I’d bet otherwise, as poker is sooooo ubiquitous).

I did try to find out more about these folks – I messaged about twenty of them to ask them why they follow this coalition, and if they knew that their anti-gambling FB buddy was actually one of the richest casino owners in the world.  No responses.  Not surprised (I am a known commodity over on that site, y’know).

What I take away from all this is simple – the “followers” are people kinda like you and me, but most don’t seem rabid about their support.  They do play games (some of them even gamble online – even if it’s just play money).  Maybe somebody told them it was a good thing to join.  Maybe somebody paid them.  It does seem to be Sheldon’s M.O.

I don’t see much value (for them) in social networking.  For us, it seems to work great.  Keep following the action here, keep participating in the PPA’s advocacy action, and remain vigilant – good things can come of 2015 if we all work together to fight the rich bastard.