Tuesday, May 31, 2011

RE: The Law is the Law

It's rare that I bother to open up Forwards in my email. I see that "Fw" tag, and I click delete without opening. This time though, the title made me curious, seeing as it came from a family member, and I wondered if they were trying to tell me something. Let me show it to you.

THE LAW IS THE LAW So "if" the   US government determines that it is against the law for the words "under God" to be on our money, then, so be it. And "if" that same government decides that the "Ten Commandments" are not to be used in or on a government installation, then, so be it. I say, "so be it," because I would like to be a law abiding  US citizen. I say, "so be it," because I would like to think that smarter people than I are in positions to make good decisions. I would like to think that those people have the American public's best interests at heart.   BUT, YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE I'D LIKE? Since we can't pray to God, can't Trust in God and cannot post His Commandments in Government buildings,   I don't believe the Government(Federal, State and Local)  and its employees should participate in the Easter and Christmas celebrations   which honor the God that our government is eliminating from many facets of American life. I'd like my mail delivered on ChristmasGood FridayThanksgiving & Easter. After all, it's just another day. I'd like the"  US Supreme Court to be in session on Christmas, Good Friday, Thanksgiving & Easter as well as Sundays." After all, it's just another day. I'd like the Senate and the House of Representatives to not have to worry about getting home for the "Christmas Break." After all it's just another day. I'm thinking that a lot of my taxpayer dollars could be saved, if all government offices & services would work on Christmas, Good Friday & Easter.   It shouldn't cost any overtime since those would be just like any other day of the week to a government that is trying to be "politically correct."  In fact.... I think that our government should work on Sundays (initially set aside for worshipping God....) because, after all, our government says that  it should be just another day....  What do you all think???? If this idea gets to enough people,maybe our elected officials will stop giving in to the "minority opinions"   and begin, once again,   to represent the "majority" of ALL of the American people. SO BE IT........... Please Dear Lord, Give us the help needed to keep you in our country! 'Amen' and 'Amen'

Interesting ideas. Let's discuss!

"I say, "so be it," because I would like to be a law abiding  US citizen. I say, "so be it," because I would like to think that smarter people than I are in positions to make good decisions. I would like to think that those people have the American public's best interests at heart." --Great! I'm glad you want to be a law abiding citizen. Hopefully our politicians really do have our best interests at heart.

"Since we can't pray to God, can't Trust in God and cannot post His Commandments in Government buildings,   I don't believe the Government (Federal, State and Local)  and its employees should participate in the Easter and Christmas celebrations   which honor the God that our government is eliminating from many facets of American life." --You can pray to and trust in God all you want, that's one of your rights, and it's a good one. Our politicians are also allowed to do that, privately. Publicly, they are representatives of the government, and it's in everyone's best interest if they don't endorse a particular religious view. Yes, a generic god still endorses a particular religious view, since not all religions have a god (Jainism, for example). However, the bit about not participating in Easter and Christmas celebrations? I'm going to be nice, and assume that you're referring to the public celebrations put on by members of government, and not the employee's private lives. So in terms of the public celebrations, Christmas at least has become decidedly secular, and almost seems like two holidays that just happen to occur on the same day: one, the Christian version, and the other, a secular version. One emphasizes the birth of a mythological savior, the other emphasizes peace, harmony, and family get-togethers. I don't see why anyone would have an issue with the secular version. Peace and harmony? Our government could probably use more of that anyway.

Easter now . . . the eggs and the Easter Bunny suggest that it's not entirely Christian, and indeed, historically many of it's traditions are stolen from older religions, but I'm not sure how secular it's become. On the one hand, it almost seems to simply be a way of celebrating the end of winter, and I personally find that something to celebrate! On the other hand, I'm not entirely certain that it's sufficiently divested itself of it's religious traditions, so to have government celebrations of the holiday might be seen as endorsement. Debatable.

"I'd like my mail delivered on ChristmasGood FridayThanksgiving & Easter. After all, it's just another day"--Ok, Good Friday is pure religion, so I'll give you that one. Christmas and Easter, see previous comments. But Thanksgiving? Really? You can be grateful without being grateful to God. You can get together with family and friends to reconnect, have a few laughs, and tell people thank you. I see no reason the government should not endorse that, as it's not a strictly religious value.

"I'd like the"  US Supreme Court to be in session on Christmas, Good Friday, Thanksgiving & Easter as well as Sundays." After all, it's just another day."  --I've commented on the holidays, but now you bring Sunday into it. You're kinda mean, aren't you? Because unless I misread that, you're advocating the Supreme Court work without any days off. I've worked 7 days a week before, and it burns you out after a while. I don't really think it would be good for the country if our top Justices burned out, do you?

"I'd like the Senate and the House of Representatives to not have to worry about getting home for the "Christmas Break." After all it's just another day." --Well, that's oh so very nice of you, but I've dealt with this.

"I'm thinking that a lot of my taxpayer dollars could be saved, if all government offices & services would work on Christmas, Good Friday & Easter.   It shouldn't cost any overtime since those would be just like any other day of the week to a government that is trying to be "politically correct." --I'll let an economist or an accountant deal with the suggested savings, although I'm thinking you might be wrong (but maybe not). I just wanted to address the way you use "politically correct" in quotation marks, suggesting sarcasm at the popular usage of the phrase. Removing  government endorsement of religion is not just about avoiding offense, as the use of that phrase usually indicates. It's not even mostly about avoiding offense. It's about being a government that is truly for everyone. The majority is not everyone, because it obviously excludes the minority. It's about equality, and believing that you can get fair treatment from the government, even if you're, oh, let's say Jewish, as opposed to Christian. That's a little hard to do if you have government employees giving invocations to Jesus as a part of their job, or otherwise endorsing a religious view that I, or someone else (you perhaps), don't agree with.

"I think that our government should work on Sundays (initially set aside for worshipping God....) because, after all, our government says that  it should be just another day...." --Well, actually, it was the seventh day that was set aside, not the first. But that's just me being petty. I will point out that this would probably wipe out any savings from your previous suggestion (more hours, more employees to cover the more hours, electricity bills from electronics being on, heating bills, etc).

"If this idea gets to enough people, maybe our elected officials will stop giving in to the "minority opinions"   and begin, once again, to represent the "majority" of ALL of the American people. " --I'll emphasize what I already said: It's about being a government that is truly for everyone. The majority is not everyone, because it obviously excludes the minority. Equating the "majority" to "all of the American people" is a gross contradiction, as well as just gross. Are you a minority? A woman perhaps, who's sex has previously been treated as second-class citizens (and still is at times)? Do you think maybe you've benefited from the government ignoring religious views about a woman's place? Are you black, or any other non-white color? Would you agree that you've benefited from secular arguments for equality, as opposed to religious ones claiming you're Cain's cursed descendants? Were you born out of wedlock? Take a look at how bastards were treated historically, with government support, and often with religious justification.

Or are you a straight, white male, with all the presumption of privilege that tradition can provide? If so, then perhaps you should try examining things from the perspective of someone without so much privilege.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I wish I didn't have to say it

There's been a few things lately about rape in the news, and it still boggles my mind that anyone thinks to blame the victim, ever, or even to hint that it may have been the victim's fault, and that there's ever any excuse for the rapist. So let me just say this, once again:

Rape is bad, mmkay? It's bad when it's done with a knife, it's bad when it's done with a drug, it's bad when it's done with a gun, it's bad when the victim is dressed like a nun, it's bad when the victim is dressed like a hooker, it's bad when the victim IS a hooker, it's bad bad bad.

If a woman is walking down the street naked in public, that doesn't mean you get to touch her. There is no "implied consent." If someone should seek to touch her, and she says "stop that" or "no" or flinches, or gives any sort of indication that she doesn't want that, then back off. Simple.

If you're making out with someone, and things are hot and heavy, and clothes are coming off, and suddenly someone wants to stop, and doesn't want to go any further? Stop. If you don't, that's assault and rape. You don't get to say "oh c'mon, you can't stop now!" or "what did you think was gonna happen?" or, really, anything other than "ok, stopping now." If you want, you can follow that up with "give me a bit to calm down here before we talk about it," as long as you're actually stopping.

Consent. Consent is the key to the whole endeavor. Without consent, we're talking about rape. Coercion, by the way, doesn't generate consent. Coercion just generates more rape. Oh, and if they're under the age of consent, then there is no consent. Period, full stop. I hear some people saying "but what about. . . ?" and the answer is "NO."

And making excuses for the rapist? Bad. Bad bad bad! Seriously, where do people get these ideas?

Friday, May 27, 2011


I have some new personal heroes, people who are inspiring me, adding to my courage, and frankly, renewing hope. Their names are Damon Fowler, Jessica Ahlquist, and Harrison Hopkins. All three have and are fighting to maintain a separation of church and state in our public schools, and have faced trials and tribulations that make anything I dealt with in high school seem minor in comparison. Let me tell you a little bit about them.

Jessica Ahlquist is a high school sophomore in Cranston, RI. She and a friend noticed a painting of a "school prayer" in the auditorium. Eventually, she decided to support the removal of the prayer, and when she had a chance, spoke to a sub-committee meeting about having it removed. Naturally, she thought that they would remove it, since it's obviously a constitutional violation. Well, sadly, she was wrong. After a number of meetings, and various news reports, the school board voted to keep the prayer. Many of her fellow classmates have vilified her and harassed her.  Well, happily, she hasn't given up. She's taking them to court with the assistance of the ACLU. You can find more detail at her blog. The very first post tells the story.

Harrison Hopkins is a senior, graduating this year, at Laurens District High School in Laurens, SC. Inspired in part by Jessica's activism, he contacted the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation last April regarding the plans of his school to put it to a vote whether or not to have a prayer at graduation. See, he understands that even if the majority said "yes," it would still be unconstitutional. After the FFRF sent a letter to the school, the vote and prayer were officially canceled. Despite receiving backlash from his community, he too is continuing the fight. The graduation hasn't taken place yet, so we'll see what happens.

Damon Fowler I've talked about before. A senior in Bastrop, LA, he pointed out the law forbidding prayer at graduation to his school superintendent, said he would contact the ACLU if the prayer happened, and after consulting their attorneys, the school officially canceled the prayer. When Damon was outed as the letter writer, he suffered a "shitstorm" from his community. One of his teachers publicly insulted him in a local paper, he received threats of violence, and even death threats. The worst part? Eventually, his parents disowned him. His story went international, and the outpouring of support, emotionally, pragmatically, and even financially, has been absolutely amazing. Greta Christina wrote up a very nice summation and op ed piece on Damon's story over at AlterNet, and I highly suggest reading it.

So, now let me tell you why I find these three so heroic I would call them "personal heroes," a phrase I have rarely applied -- actually, never. They have taken a stand for what they believe in, despite severe opposition. They have faced up to those who ridicule, hate, and vilify them for being atheists, for wanting to see a separation of church and state, and for daring to speak up. The hardships they've endured are appalling. They've lost friends and acquaintances (and Damon lost family). I imagine that it's been emotionally difficult as hell at times, but they maintain and continue. Not a one of them indicates any serious regret for what they've done, and continue to do. They show a courage I can only hope to mirror. Their willingness to sacrifice of themselves for a greater good, for the rights of everyone (because make no mistake: church/state separation is good for everyone, not just atheists), shows a potential future for America and the world that is bright indeed.

If you want to learn more about these three in their own words, they've got a question and answer bit going on over at Reddit. Here's the link.

----This next bit gets a lot more personal. Stop if you don't want to see it, or you think you don't want to know. Keep going, and you take responsibility for gaining that knowledge.----

Here's the hard part. Heroes, by their actions and stories, call on us to be better than we've been, and to reach for our highest potential. They encourage us to step up and show the world what we're made of. Heroes encourage us to do, rather than simply be. Heroes . . . inspire.

If heroes inspire us to do things, then these three young people must surely have inspired me to do something, right? Yes, but it's not easy. I've lived for a long time with a fear that if my family, whom I love a great deal, ever found out that I'm an atheist, it would be . . . problematic. I've feared the pain that I might cause them, and I've feared ostracism and loss. My family is (so far as I know) Christian, one and all. My grandfather's a pastor, my mother "born-again," etc. When I was given a subscription to Discover Magazine at the age of 13 by my mother, she warned me that if I started talking about evolution, that subscription would be taken away. So, I think I've had good reasons for my fear (that's just one example). And because of those reasons, I've hidden myself from them. I've not directly lied by claiming beliefs I don't have, but I've dodged topics of discussion and kept my mouth shut. When I've written online in forums or comment sections of atheist/humanist blogs, I've done so under a pseudonym, just in case (that's also just in case a potential employer should ever google me). I've been hiding less of late then in the past, and censoring myself less, but . . .

But this means that my family doesn't know me. This means I can never let them be close, know who I am. Yet, I believe truth is important, very important. Truth matters. Reality is better than an illusion. And if three young people not even out of high school can face down entire communities, then I should be able to face my own fears.

Hi, my name is Nathan Salo Tumberg. It's a pleasure to meet you. I believe that humanity is a wonderfully fascinating, evolved creature, that is hopefully still evolving. I believe we have huge potential for good, and huge potential for evil. I believe that we are completely capable of being moral. I believe that meaning is all around us, in the lives we create for ourselves, the connections we make to our fellow inhabitants of this universe. I believe that critical thinking is one of the best tools we've devised, ever. I believe that questions are good, even great, and that discussion is even better. I believe that reality is more important than comfort. I believe that compassion is powerful, and key to morality. I believe in freedom and rights, and that these are worth fighting for. I believe that humanity is capable of being greater than we have ever been before, but I do not know if we will be.

I do not, however, believe that a god, any god, is necessary to, or for, the universe, morality, meaning, hope, or anything else. This life is what we have, and it's up to us to live it. If you don't like what I believe, that's fine. You don't have to. I'm open to discussion, but if you'd rather not, that's fine too. I'm not about to force myself or my thoughts on you.

My name is Nathan Salo Tumberg. Occasionally, I think. Would you care to have a discussion?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Regarding the marriage amendment in Minnesota

Here's an open letter from a friend of mine that he posted to his Facebook wall, reprinted here with permission. Seeing as how I was also naive when I got married, I must add my own "mea culpa" to his.

Dear voters of Minnesota:
I'm embarrassed to admit that when I was married, I forgot to submit my request for marriage to a public vote. It was my first time getting married, and it was my naive understanding that I only needed one specific person to say "Yes", another person sanctioned by the government to perform the marriage, at least one other witness, and someone to notarize the documents. My bad. I'll try and get it on a ballot next time.
According to 68 Republicans and 2 Democrats in the MN House of Representatives, it's important that the democratic process decides these things.
Andy Vercnocke


So, while I still don't think I'm likely to consider Texas as my next place of residence, if this video is any indication, the world is changing for the better. To those who stood up, and spoke up: thank you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Damon Fowler, you have our support

I realize that at this point in time, not many read this blog. But for those of you who do, I hope you'll follow this link, and do anything you can to support Damon Fowler. He has stood up for the law in Louisiana prohibiting a school prayer at graduation, and now not only is the community lashing out at him, members of his own family are cutting him off and denying him the support he needs at this time. Thankfully, his brother and sister are not taking that road, but are standing by him. What he's going through is discrimination of the worst sort. Let's do something about it.

[UPDATE, 5/20] From a post on the Support Damon Facebook page by Jerret, Damon's brother: 
Last night I heard from my sister at rehearsal that Mitzi Quinn, reluctantly and with a bit of malice in her voice, apologized to my brother publicly and privately. When my brother was out of earshot my sister overheard Mitzi speaking to someone else in the administration, she proceeded to insult my brother and talk badly against him. While this isn't illegal, it shows her character
Also, Friendly Atheist has started a scholarship fund for Damon here.  Damon's graduation is tonight, and despite threats of violence and the nastiness from his community, he's decided to walk during the ceremony and get his diploma like everyone else. I applaud his courage. 

[UPDATE, 5/23] Damon made it through graduation without any boos or violence, unfortunately, he still had to endure prayer (Friendly Atheist has the video). It was led by a student, so there may be question about it's legality. Damon has moved to Texas to live with his brother Jerret [correction, 5/26: he's living with his sister Heather], and they are considering their next moves, including possible legal action. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The opposite has been proposed

Remember when I got annoyed that folks in the Minnesota legislature had decided they needed to spend time proposing and debating an amendment to Minnesota's constitution banning same-sex marriage? Remember when I proposed the opposite? Turns out, someone did.

Well, ok, it's not a constitutional amendment, it simply seeks to repeal the law banning same-sex marriage that is already on the books (yes, there's already such a law, it's just not a constitutional amendment), and add gender-neutral language anywhere marriage is referenced in the law. So perhaps it's not exactly the opposite. And I doubt that there's much chance the bill authors took the idea from me. I further doubt it's going to pass. But you know what? I'm just glad someone did it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Christian nation?

You've probably heard it before. "This nation was founded as a Christian nation." "We need to return to our Christian roots." "All the Founding Fathers were Christian." Now, while this is rather unlikely to be true, I'm willing to temporarily grant the point for the sake of argument. I'm willing to do this for one simple reason: I don't think it matters.

Oh sure, it matters from the position of having an accurate history. I would never advocate ignoring or covering up any part of history. When I say it doesn't matter, I mean that it doesn't matter in terms of how we determine our public policy and legislative goals. Even granting (for argument's sake) that the Founders were Christian and wanted a Christian nation, that is in no way binding on us in the here and now.

When people say things like "This nation was founded as a Christian nation," they're essentially making the mistake of thinking that just because an idea is old, it should be given more weight. False. The age of an idea is no indicator of it's value. An idea must stand on it's own, regardless of it's age or who says it. Slavery is a very old idea, thousands of years old, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Likewise, mere age doesn't make the "Christian roots" argument a good one.

When considering our policies of today, the laws we wish to adopt, the freedoms we wish to grant, we should only consider whether they are good ones. Do they improve our country in some way, whether by increasing justice, freedom, or some other good? Do they protect us, without infringing on us? There's a distinct possibility that trying to answer these questions by solely referencing our Founding Fathers's views on an issue would not lead us to improvement, but may even cause us to slide backward. Remember, women didn't get to vote under the system set up by the Founders.

Just as a son is not obligated to follow in his father's footsteps, we as Americans are not obligated to follow in the footsteps of America's fathers. They were kind enough and wise enough to include within the Constitution a means of altering what they had written, in the form of making Amendments, should their descendants determine that an alteration is necessary. We should be wise enough to recognize the general principle embodied in that rule, and stop acting as if the Founding views are the views that matter most, whether those views were Christian, secular, Jewish, Humanist, or those of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? Start the discussion below.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A letter on gay marriage

I live in Minnesota, and currently there's an issue being discussed in the legislature about an anti-gay marriage amendment, as I referenced here. Now, while I would honestly prefer if my elected officials were focusing on the budget problems we are currently faced with, I decided I couldn't let this issue pass. I am sending an abbreviated form of the following letter to my state representatives (abbreviated because I needed to keep it to less than a page -- that took some editing, but I succeeded). You may consider the following to be an open letter, applicable to anyone in any legislative body that cares to make similar proposals.

Letter to the Legislature

In regards to the proposal for an anti-gay marriage amendment to Minnesota’s constitution, I would like to come down against such an idea, and against putting the question on the ballot, and urge you to vote against such a process. Many reasons are put forth for people to support such an amendment, and for putting the question on the ballot. Please allow me to address a few of those reasons.
One of the big reasons put forth is the idea that “traditional marriage is between a man and a woman.” While it’s true that marriage in America has always been between a man and a woman as far as the law is concerned, merely being tradition is not a good reason to keep it that way. It was traditional at one time that women didn’t work outside the home, but I’ll hope you agree that changing that tradition has been an overall positive for society. I would argue that denying women the right to work outside the home was in fact unethical, and thus moving past that tradition was good for more reasons than economics. Moving past the tradition that marriage is just between men and women would be an ethical boost for Minnesota and the country, regardless of practical concerns (such as health decisions that may need to be made when one partner cannot speak for themselves).
Another idea that’s been floated is that marriage between members of the same –sex somehow harms or diminishes marriage between members of the opposite sex. How? I’m happily married to a member of the opposite sex, and cannot see any way in which the existence of same-sex relationships and marriage has harmed or diminished my marriage. Unless some pervasive, persistent harm to others can be demonstrated, I do not see any reason for the government to be denying recognition of same-sex marriage.
Now of course, there is a big reason that I haven’t addressed yet: religious objection. If the only, or the major, objection that you or anyone else has to same-sex marriage is a religious one, then I would argue that runs right up against the separation of church and state that has been such a benefit to America, and its goal of equality for all. Some religions and religious people do not object to same-sex marriage, and indeed some endorse it to the same extent they endorse traditional marriage. To codify one religion’s view into law would be to favor that one religion over others, which would be a severe step backward toward the days of state churches. 
I said earlier that I also object to the question being put on the ballot for voters to decide. This, at first glance, seems like an attractive option. We live in a democracy, voting is one of our great rights and privileges. It’s how we choose the people who create our laws and formulate the policies that, when done right, benefit all of us. Unfortunately, sometimes that very system of majority rule can act against us. This is sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the majority.” There are times when popular opinion and views are not good. For example, if during the days of the civil rights movement for African-Americans and other minorities it had been put to a vote to the public whether equal treatment of all, regardless of race, should be encoded into law, I hesitate to believe the vote would’ve gone in the direction of equality. Discrimination was rampant, and even traditional, and it was for that reason that people needed to march and protest. The law had to be changed so that unethical tradition could be changed. 
It may be that at this time in history a majority do not want same-sex marriage recognized by the law. Many feel it’s immoral, and perhaps you agree. This does not mean that it’s right, or that the government should be involved in legislating morality when there is no evidence of pervasive harm to society. 
In closing, I would just like to point out that this is not a minor issue. Marriage is intricately woven into the fabric of our laws, affecting taxes, health benefits, credit issues, and a variety of other things. I do not recall the exact number, but a study was once done that counted the number of times “marriage” appears in the laws of Minnesota, and the total was in the thousands (if not more). 
I thank you for your time and attention to this matter. If you would like to discuss this further, there are various ways to contact me, which I’ve included below. Thank you again.
(Anyone who wishes to discuss this letter, the issues, or the points I bring up -- or points on the issue I didn't bring up -- may feel free to do so in the comments. I welcome the discussion.) 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Response to "Baby, You're a Firework!--Humanism and the Hereafter"

Temple of the Future has a new post entitled "Baby, You're a Firework!--Humanism and the Hereafter." I responded in the comments with a comment of such length, I had to apologize, as it should have been a blog post that I referenced instead. So, I'm going to copy & paste it here, after you follow that link and read James's post.

Ready? Good.

Beautifully written, with wonderful, evocative imagery. When you say “We promote science and skepticism – though more poetically than most,” you clearly mean it, and I quite enjoy it.
Unfortunately, I disagree entirely.
I find meaning in life, yes. I find love and wonder and hope, yes. But the brevity of life I find to be an annoyance sticking in the back of mind, like an itch in the center of your back that you can’t . . . quite . . . reach. It’s an annoyance that if I ponder it too much will turn to frustration. To paraphrase Hitchens, it’s like knowing that I will have to leave the party, well before the party is over.
What I want is immortality, physical immortality. I am not satisfied or comforted by the idea that people may remember me, whether through fame or children. Though fireworks are beautiful, I prefer to stare into a longer lasting campfire, perhaps contemplating, perhaps just… relaxing. I want to be alive when the sun expands to into a red giant, engulfing the earth as I watch from a safe distance. I want to watch my great-great-great-great-etc grandchildren grow and laugh and cry and love and do all that people do.
I consider the shortness of my life, of the lives of loved ones, of the lives of hated ones, and colors become duller, the purple majesty of the mountains loses the power to stun, and the significance of any one action, or life, seems as a spark in the wind, rather than a blaze.
Having said all that, perhaps you will not believe me when I say the following: I love life. I LOVE life. I have known a despair and depression so great that I had the note written and the knife at my wrist. Another time I swallowed pills and chased them with alcohol. And another time before that I admitted myself to a psych ward for a day, because I knew what I would do if I didn’t. I did not love life for those years.
But I survived. Because I survived, I have loved and laughed and danced and sang and had sex and had more pain and then loved and laughed some more. And I’ve learned. Oh, the wonders I have learned! About life’s ever changing, ever evolving diversity! About the strange, strange behavior of particles so small I cannot comprehend it! About stars and galaxies crashing together, releasing energies so vast and immense that not even the sun compares!
And the wonders I’ve yet to learn! What will life be in a million years? How can the descriptions of stellar movements and the tiniest of particles be reconciled? I want to know! I want to be here when I find out! I want to call my friends and family, saying “hey, did you hear about…?” I want science to get off it’s ass and make that dream a reality (oh, how I hope for that)!
Until that day, life’s brevity shall annoy me. But, if you will allow me but another moment, I’d like to quote Tim Minchin: “But here’s what give me a hard on: I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon. I have one life, and it is short and unimportant, But thanks to recent scientific advances… I get to live twice as long as my great-great-great-great uncleses and auntseses. Twice as long! to live this life of mine; twice as long to love this wife of mine. Twice as many years of friends, and wine, of sharing curries and getting shitty at good looking hippies with fairies on their spine and butterflies on their titties.”

 Addendum: One thing I didn't address, but should have, is James's final paragraph, wherein he says:
You could do great things in service to others, as Adams did, and as many others have. So come on – show ‘em what you’re worth! Let your colors burst! Make ‘em go “Ah, ah, AH!” as you shoot across the sky! Leave them all in awe! And when, inevitably, those colors begin to fade, and your trajectory tilts downward back toward earth, do not despair. Do not seek solace in another life for which we have no evidence. Instead remember that you live on, etched onto the retinas of those who watched your marvelous display.
Let nothing that I have said stop you from doing this! That is all.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I am not a man given to tears, but this LITERALLY brought tears to my eyes. This was true heroism. Right there.


A father stood up for his daughter in a time and place when many would not have, defending her at risk to himself and family. Thank you PZ Myers for pointing it out.

Bin Laden is dead, should I be glad?

My first emotion on hearing the news was excitement, eagerness to hear the President confirm it, and a certain amount of "finally." But then I did what I occasionally do, and thought.

I started thinking that a man is dead, gone forever. A human life has been snuffed out. Should I be glad? True, it's a relief that Osama Bin Laden is no longer capable of threatening America or the world. True, he's responsible for thousands of deaths, and much suffering. True, getting him has been a goal of the USA since even before the 9/11 attacks. Still, should I be glad?

There are pragmatic reasons to think it would have been better were he captured alive. Dead, he becomes a martyr. Alive and on trial, he could've been shown as merely human. Also, though a severe long shot, there is a small chance we could've gathered more information from him. If we had captured him alive, it would've been easier to silence those who are already questioning (at least on my Facebook account) whether it was really him. But those are simply "gee, it would've been nice . . . " concerns, and sometimes in military operations, you just have to take the shot.

What of ethical concerns? Because this is where the thought really leads for me: ethically, is it good that someone, even Bin Laden, died? I have held for a long time that life is (for want of a better word) sacred. We have one very brief life, and when it's done, it's done. There is nothing more after this. Frankly, if there were an afterlife, I suspect that killing another would be easier to justify (I'm not going to bother arguing against that link, Greta Christina did a great job already). But, there is no afterlife. No hell for Bin Laden to go to, and no heaven either. All that remains of him is memory. Memory is powerful of course, but he no longer is concerned with that.

There's a saying in Jewish tradition that "To end one life is to destroy the world entire."  To forcibly take another's life destroys something precious, something wonderful. Our lives are our own, and should not be taken from us by another without consent, even less than our property, our freedom, or our innocence. If we kill a criminal, all possibility of them making amends is gone. If we kill a murderer, all possibility of them learning how wrong that action was is gone. Yes, all possibility of further evil perpetrated by that man or woman is gone as well, but the cost is simply not worth it.

Yet, I do not think it is always and everywhere unethical to take a life. One of my high school instructors, a Christian, believed that it was, but when asked said that she would kill to protect her children, even if it meant going to hell. I find myself agreeing with her that I would kill to protect my loved ones, even if it meant going to a hellish prison. Defense of life is a situation where killing can be justified, but should still be avoided whenever possible. If you've an option between a gun or a taser, use the taser. When defending life, you are defending the very thing that is so precious and important, against someone who is seeking to end it. Sometimes, the only possible defense, and therefore the only possible ethical choice, is to kill. But should I be glad that a life is gone?


James Croft had his own thoughts on the matter, and I find myself in agreement with his conclusion: "we might accept that, sometimes, it is necessary for a person to be killed to ensure the welfare of others. But we should never celebrate that decision."

Yet a part of me is glad Bin Laden's dead, and another part is ashamed of that feeling. I'm not sure what to do with that, but there it is.

Anyone else have a thought on this?