Hug an atheist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My name is Sylvia, I’m a Belgian filmmaker living in England and I’m an atheist. I’m often gobsmacked at how atheism is generally perceived in the US. When I read stories like Jessica Ahlquist’s or Damon Fowler’s I just sit here in disbelief and find myself outraged.

Unlike my US friends, I can openly talk about it without the fear of persecution or the fear of losing my job, my friends or my family. It’s a cause I find myself passionate about so I’ve been wondering for a while what can I do. I’m a filmmaker. With that in mind, I would dearly love to make a film about atheism in the USA…

Thank you, Sylvia. Everyone, click here and learn all about this project and help make it happen!

Here’s a widget:


Obama Will Forward the Country. Period.

Yes. I just verbed “forward.” Why? Because according to some Grammar Gits, the only correct single-word sentences are those that have a single verb in them. Strange. Surprising. Didn’tknowhtat.

Anyway, the Re-Elect Barack Obama campaign came up with a new slogan for their signs and stuff: Forward. That’s right. Forward. Punctuated. With a period. So the slogan is:

Forward.

and the slogan is not:

Forward

(without punctuation).

It is said that Obama thinks of it as “Forward. Full stop. No questions asked.” That is a great slogan because it implies that a second term president will be asking fewer questions of, say, the Congressional Yahoos or This or That Base all of which have been making it difficult to get. things. done. Others say that the period is a downer for some reason. Like “Forward. Full stop.” but with a different implication than when I said the same exact thing a few seconds ago (assuming you did not take a break while reading this paragraph).

The Wall Street Journal is, of course, hot on this story. Hat Tip: Tricia McKinney

Onward.

Romney Aide To Press: “Kiss My Ass” and “Shove It”

Shove what? Shove it where? He was not clear.

As Romney was walking away from Pilsudski Square toward his vehicle, reporters asked him about his string of gaffes and whether he had any comment for Palestinians…Romney ignored the questions and got in his car.

But his traveling press secretary was furious.

“Kiss my ass; this is a holy site for the Polish people,” said aide Rick Gorka. “Show some respect.” [he then went on to tell a reporter to shove it]

Wut?

For the most part, according to Jonathan Martin of Politico, Romney has avoided the press for the last week.

The isolation from the press has worked, as Romney has not been heard making an Polish jokes.

Pussy Riot Is On Trial

The Russian Feminist Punk Rock group Pussy Riot, or at least part of it, is on trial and faces several years in prison for acting up. Debbie Goddard has the story in detail.

You may be asking yourself why I’m writing about this. As an activist and organizer, I try to pay attention to other groups’ campaigns and activism efforts, whether populist or fringe, especially when led by young people. I’ll share a few of the reasons this situation is particularly interesting to me….

Read The Rest

Carlin Rosalia on Secular Women and Men

Headline of the Century: Secular Men Lament Dearth of Secular Women, Stupidity Ensues

The socio-cultural machinery behind the gender divide in religion vs. nonbelief is fairly well researched and rather broadly understood to be the likely result of women’s socialization toward meekness, obedience, and submission….Try talking to women. Try to actually listen to what we have to say. Don’t become incredulous and try to tell us that our reasons for not participating more are invalid. Don’t assume that one woman’s opinion invalidates another’s. …

Very interesting and timely post, please go check it out.

MN Atheists Adopts Anti-Harassment Policy

George Kane notes in “Board Adopts a New Anti-Harassment Policy” …

Everyone is looking forward to the Regional Conference that we are co-sponsoring with American Atheists in St. Paul on August 11. It prompted one of our members to write to our board on a very serious matter, however. She noted that it is becoming standard for atheist and skeptic organizations to adopt anti-harassment policies for their conventions.

The member provided a list of models for a conference anti-harassment policy. These models were designed specifically for conferences, and American Atheists was already drafting a policy for our joint event, which our board would review. It pointed up a need, though, for a Minnesota Atheist policy to state the board’s position regarding harassing conduct by members at any event we sponsor. To this end, the board adopted the following policy at our June meeting.

The policy is here.

Billboard Compares Obama with Aurora Massacre Guy James Holmes…

(alleged)

From the Huffington Post:

An electronic billboard in Caldwell, Idaho that compares President Obama to James Holmes, the 24-year-old man accused of killing 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater on July 20, has sparked outrage in the community, reports The Idaho Statesman.

The billboard was apparently put up by Maurice Clements, who is running for Idaho State Senate on the Dickwad ticket, and who channels Ralph Smeed.

Want to tell London and the US that we are not Romney?

Americans who are embarrassed about Mitt Romney’s ham-handed, ignorant, and jingoistic babbling about the London Olympics have a chance to tell the UK that it is not the case that we all feel that way. Daily Kos Campaigns has a letter you can sign.

An open letter to the people of the United Kingdom:

We are writing to express our concern over Mitt Romney’s recent comments, and to let you know that he does not represent how most Americans view your great country.

First, we do not believe, as Mitt Romney implied in 2007, that you have become a second-tier nation. Rather, we are impressed at how the United Kingdom has consistently been able to punch above its weight on the world stage.

Additionally, we do not share the opinion which Romney expressed in his 2010 book, No Apologies, that “England [sic] is just a small island,” and that “with few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.” Please continue sending us your many wonderful products, especially the upcoming third season of Downton Abbey.

We look forward not only to the London Olympics, but also to many years of continuing the special relationship between our two nations. Rest assured we will do our level best to prevent Mitt Romney from becoming our next president.

Cheers!

Click Here to sign.

Boycott Reddit? (Again)

A while ago I asked Should we just stop using reddit? (For those of you following the Freethought Bullies discussion, I’ll note that one of my frustrations with Freethoughtblogs, which I overall think is a great blog network, is that so many bloggers there uncritically involve themselves in Reddit to the point that they are by default defending the widespread and offensive misogyny there.)

Lots of people showed up on that post to hate me for hating the hate at Reddit. Whatever.

More recently, Jim Hines, the author, has written this post: Why I Cancelled my Reddit Q&A [trigger warning].

What Hines notes in his post is even worse than what I had encountered. It is a very good argument for leaving Reddit off your social networking list of things to do.

Unless, of course, Reddit does the right thing.

Is the Mother Ship finally hitting the Target?

Target, which we in Minnesota refer to as The Mother Ship (as in “We’re out of everything. Time to visit the Mother Ship”), has a mixed record with respect to Gay Rights. A few years back, Target made a major indirect donation to Tom Emmer’s gubernatorial campagin; Emmer is very anti Gay. You may remember that event because it is when Lady Gaga killed an album deal with the company as a way of showing her support for Gay Rights. Also, there is the more recent controversy over Frank Ocean’s album, although the reasons for Target dropping that album from its line are not entirely clear.

Well, cooler heads have prevailed at least to some extent, with Target now selling same-sex greeting cards and, most recently, using a same-sex theme in its advertising for a wedding registry.

When I first moved to Minnesota, Targets were not everywhere in the US, but they were everywhere here. There were so many Targets that you could not use them as landmarks when giving directions. If you said “Go north and turn right at the Target” you might was well say “Go north and turn right at any major intersection you see” because there is a Target at every major intersection. In those days, people who used a Target credit card knew that a significant percent (was it 5%?) of their purchase went into a fund to support education, and more than that, credit hard holders could specify which school district received the funding. Now, however, the percentage is much lower, but at least they still do it.

One of the things that Target uses to differentiate itself from its main competitors, such as Walmart, is style. I’m told that Target keeps its aisles wide and open while Walmart fills its open space with stuff on sale. This provides Walmart with more income (because the amount of stuff you put out for sale is a factor in how much you sell) but it keeps Target customers subtly more happy about going to Target. In this and other ways, the two companies have different approaches to brand loyalty. Only slightly more subtle difference is the cultural and political aspect of brand loyalty. When I would visit relatives in the Ozarks, everyone would be all about Walmart, everyone had their Sam Walton story, and Walmart was without a doubt The Mother Ship in that region, whence Walmart comes. In Minnesota, the contrast is starker. Walmart is conservative, Republican, and Dixie-South, while Target is liberal, DFLish, and local. The thing about cramming the aisles vs. not seems to fit well with this contrast somehow. Free Market vs. Good Service, or something.

It is for this reason that Minnesotans really did become upset when Emmer received support from Target. Lots of Minnesotans supported Emmer, are against Gay Rights, and are otherwise misguided in their politics and social policy. But Progressives, DFLers, Liberals, pro-Gay Rights people were the Target customers, and we were shocked, chagrined, and upset when that happened.

So we applied pressure and it seems to be paying off.

I’ve known a handful of people who worked at Target, as executives. They are all at least liberal, some downright progressive and overtly pro-Gay Rights. People who graduate from the local colleges with certain degrees, and especially from MBA programs, know that the process of applying at Target for a management (or similar) job involves an evaluation of one’s ability to “fit the culture.” That culture mainly has to do with the overall management strategy at Target and is more about the nature of teams, approaches to organization, and attitudes about customer service, all of which I’ve heard a very different from other large corporations in the area. I’ve also gotten the sense, however, that it is also somewhat political. Target is more liberal inside and out, than other major retailers. But, they are also a business and I’m not entirely sure that the Management embraces a liberal political attitude when making decisions, or at least not consistently.

And that is somewhat appropriate since Target is not a political non-profit. It is a retail corporation. But still, it is also The Mother Ship, but not everybody’s Mother Ship. It is my Mother Ship and I want it to behave.

Of the last five times I needed to buy clothing, I went to JC Penny’s instead of Target because of recent politically shaded decisions by the two corporations. I’d never been to a JC Penny’s to buy my clothing before. I’m not the only person around here to did that.

When it comes to the politics of retail businesses, voting day is every day.

Hat Tip to Skeptically Money for pointing me to this story.

Minnesota: Show Support for the US Bank Protesters

From the Court Support facebook page:

Four of the seven people arrested in front of US Bank plaza last fall are going to court next week, for challenging the banks practices of foreclosing on people and forcing them into homelessness. We recently learned that the prosecutor has added three new charges to each of us! We need people to pack the court room and show their support, and to say that standing up to the banks isn’t criminal, taking people’s homes IS!

GJ’s Bar

I was trying to decide which episode in this loosely connected series of posts on music and me I would touch on this week. As I was looking over the list of ideas, in the background was the Rachel Maddow show talking about the Stonewall uprising. Well, duh, I’ll talk about GJ’s.

The location of GJ's Bar in Albany, New York.

GJ’s was a bar I lived over for a couple of years. The bar was on the first floor and I was on the third. Some of my most notable roommates lived with me in that apartment. I can briefly summarize. I moved there to live with my girlfriend, Amy, a girl I’ll call Junette and the niece of Henry Mancini. Junette was so loud when having sex that her boyfriend Mike wore earplugs and the police were often called by neighbors thinking there was a murder. Or wishing there was a murder. That was not her only annoying trait. Junette soon moved out and we had a huge party, playing Eric Clapton’s song “She’s Gone” over and over again. Police were once again called. Then Ms. Mancini moved out and took my girlfriend with her. The vacancies were filled by two people whom I’ll call Tashina and Ron. Tashina was a drop dead gorgeous bisexual African American model from NY with a shaved head (a bit rare in those days), and Ron was an authentic Cajun boy fresh from the Bayou near Baton Rouge.

One day Tashina asked to speak to me privately. “Honey, what do you do to get rid of crabs. Crotch crabs. Just tell me what to do and don’t tell anyone we had this little conversation, ‘kay?” I told her what to do.

Later that same day, Ron cornered me alone in the foyer. “Hey, my man, I do dee-claire I gotta bad, bad problem. How does a guy stamp out dem little bugs, dem baby micro-scopical crawdads down in the you know where, if you get my drift?” I told him what to do.

That made me laugh.

Then one day Tashina got a job back in the city and left, and that’s when Raheem moved in. Raheem was one of my favorite people ever and we became pretty good friends. He was a fugitive from the police, so I will not provide many details. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you the most hair-raising story you’ve ever heard. Raheem eventually moved on as well, leaving a vacancy that was filled by a sequence of low-life felons and undesirables.

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Eventually, The Cat moved in. Again, one of my favorite people. The Cat always wore black, had a D.A. haircut and was a full-blown bodybuilder and generally very, very scary person. His twin brother was exactly the same but not as built, and every time the two of them got together and had a few beers, they would get into a fist fight. This brings us downstairs to the first floor to GJ’s for a moment, because that is usually where that would happen. The two of them would end up out in the street about to punch each other, occasionally taking a swing but mostly posturing and dancing around each other long enough for the local detectives who were never far away to saunter over, flash a badge and separate them. Like clockwork.

Ron stopped paying his rent about two months before The Cat moved in, and after one more month of that, The Cat and I threw him out. Then another individual moved in, who was the actual nephew of Carlos Castenada. No kidding. He was a total dweeb and also forgot to pay his rent for a few months. He had a lot of cool stuff, so when we took all of that cool stuff and put it on the curb, I kept a couple of his cooking pots and utensils.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Because it is time to turn to GJ’s. The reason for the link between GJ’s and Stonewall is simply this: GJ’s was for a long time the only openly gay bar in the city. Later, a gay club opened up, and still later a few other more or less gay bars opened, but GJ’s was it for a long time. Interestingly, the bar was not owned by anyone who was gay. GJ’s became a gay bar simply because…well, it just did. The right place at the right time. Half the bartenders were gay, the other half not, more or less. And the same was roughly true of the clientele. The important thing about GJ’s is that it was a comfortable place, where everyone knows your name, where everyone was always glad you came, where everyone, gay or straight, felt their troubles were the same. Like Cheers. But almost everybody was a freak. Half the freaks were gay, half the freaks were straight and the other half were just odd.

GJ’s had a jukebox with exactly two kinds of music on it: disco and good. PJ, who always dressed as a sailor for Halloween and worked three night shifts a week in the bar, would unlock the jukebox and reuse as many quarters as the machine would take and load up the play list with pure disco. Donna Summer got a little richer every time PJ was bartending. Alternately, Steve the Biker and Tex the Cowboy would take half their pinball money and load up the play list with non-disco songs, mostly Rolling Stones. The beer was good and it was all done in good fun.

Every now and then (and don’t tell anyone this part, please) closing time would come around, and we’d pull down the shades and turn down the lights and have a private party for the next couple of hours. If a anyone had to leave, they could not come back because the doors were locked. Relatively speaking, the parties were pretty tame most of the time. It was just like having the bar open, except certain things happened that otherwise could not happen and certain things did not happen that otherwise would. I’ll let you use your imagination as to what those things were; it will probably be more interesting than the reality.

On winter afternoons, Biker Steve, Mike (the guy with the ear plugs), Marylou and Sue (new girlfriend and local sex worker, respectively) and I would hang out watching the snow fall (those were wintry years, statistically) and waiting for people to get stuck. Then we’d pile out of the bar and push them free. Over the course of a snowy afternoon, that would get sillier and sillier until finally they were pushing us out of the snow.

So what was the music we were playing in GJ’s? Offhand, I remember a few songs: “Tonight’s The Night” and other songs by Rod Stewart; “Higher And Higher,” Rita Coolidge; “Dancing Queen” by Abba; “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet; “Hotel California,” Eagles; “Fly Like An Eagle” by Steve Miller Band (whom I just saw in concert a few months ago); “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees; “Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton; “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stone; various songs by Steely Dan; “Last Dance” by Donna Summer; and a lot of stuff by the Village People, Santana, some heavy metal and the Grateful Dead.

Those were the days. That music was kinda iffy.

Huxley: It is possible that he is a sissy

Huxley, imprisoned by Western heteronormative values.

Huxley is barely able to say the word “shoe,” does not yet know the word “pink,” has no clue what “gender” is, but last weekend somebody called him a sissy. He is not yet two years old.

This is interesting and it is a little complicated. And it involves multiple waves of offensive idiosity, so get ready for a longish story…
Continue reading

The Columbia House Record Club

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The reason that hanging out with a bunch of temporarily insane Viet Nam vets fresh back from combat was a new phase in my own musical experience, aside from the fact that I’m obviously using music as a ragged thread to tie together utterly unrelated themes, is the importance of music to some of those vets, and to the era that was just winding down in the early 1970s.

Music was part of the Revolution, the anti-war protests, the hippie movement, all of it. One of my coworkers, the assistant director of the place I did archaeology, was a Rolling Stones fan. This big, scary guy all tough and shot up from the war, this thuggish guy from a tough neighborhood in New York where being Jewish meant you had to learn to fight, this guy who had the swagger walk down cold and carried a crowbar in the front seat of his car and knew how to use it, once told me that he “cried and screamed like a girl” when he saw The Stones at the ball park in New York.

“You saw The Rolling Stones live?”

Rolling Stones fans.

“I cried like a girl, no kidding.” He was getting teary-eyed again as he sat behind the desk in his office, his head covered in most spots with randomly placed and pointy tufts of flaming red hair, and his smuggish face pointing nose first at the object held above the desk in his hand. He had used the intercom to call me into his office a moment earlier and was showing me an album he had just acquired…a Rolling Stones album…and was telling me about the concert and the album at the same time. I did not fully understand why we were having this conversation.

“So take this and fill it out,” he suddenly said, thrusting a small square of paper in my general direction, a piece of paper that looked like a postcard on one side and a form to be filled in on the other. “As soon as you can. Do it right now.”

So my boss had just forced me to join the Columbia House Record Club so he could get a free album by getting someone else to join. I had to pick five albums from this list of mostly totally stupid stuff. I was able to find one to give to my mother as a birthday present, and it was an album by Jim Neighbors, the enigmatic actor/singer. Another remains today as one of my favorite albums of all time, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

One of the best albums ever produced. Ever.

So, now that I had albums coming, I had to get…a record player. So I consulted with Carl, and we managed to dig up a tuner and a record player and set it up in my room. I scavenged my parents’ old speakers from The First Stereo. I dug deep into my pockets and searched for change in the couches and got enough to buy a new needle (that’s the device that reads data off the album on the record player). And the records came and it was good.

The other benefit of the stereo was the built-in radio. Not very many months later, I moved from my parents’ house into my own place. My girlfriend at the time, Leslie, just recently told me that she thought it was SO cool that her boyfriend had his own place. Now that I think about it, that would have been pretty cool for a couple of 16-year-olds. She reminded me that we would get together and tune in the radio to listen to The Fourth Tower of Inverness…indeed, we did. Now that I think about it, holding hands with Leslie and listening to The Fourth Tower of Inverness was even better than Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Which brings me right up to the present. Since I mention my first girlfriend, I will also mention my last girlfriend, Amanda. There are a number of things that I’ve always liked but no one that I was “with” (as it were) also liked, or at least, such things were not important to them. For instance, I’ve always wanted to own a Subaru. No one I was “with” ever wanted a Subaru, so that never happened. Amanda strongly prefers Subaru. So now we have a couple of them. How cool is that?

As I say, there are a number of things like that with Amanda and me. And it turns out that even though she did not really know Joe Cocker when we first met, one of her favorite songs is “Feelin’ Alright“…the version done by Joe Cocker.

Amanda was somewhat ensaddened to learn that the song is not about feeling all right. It’s about how, “You are feeling all right because you’re an evil thoughtless person, and I’m distinctly not feeling all right at all. In fact, I feel trapped and I’m having nightmares and I dread the day you dump me for some guy with a different name, a different face” (I paraphrase).

But who cares what the song says. It’s how it makes you feel that counts.

Viet Nam at Home

First, let me say right away that I was never in Viet Nam. To do that, I would have had to be Vietnamese, because I was too young even to be a Marine in that war. In fact, I have never been in the military. But during the very last years of the war, when almost all American soldiers had come home from Southeast Asia, I worked for a unit of city government that was funded by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a kind of WPA for returning vets.

I had turned 13 years old the week before I started working there, and it was a summer job that would turn into a volunteer position and eventually a year-round job. During this time, as was the case before and since, music was not really especially important to me, and I continued to have a very passive relationship with that particular fine art. But there were individuals who influenced my tastes. New people, whom you have yet to meet.

Since I came from a good Democratic family in a Democratic city, I was eligible to go down to City Hall that June to get a summer job. I remember going into this big room with lots of people. This guy who I later got to know pretty well, State Representative Jack McEneny (this was before he had run for any office), got up in front of the group and demanded the attention of the hundreds of 13-year-olds who were in the room.

“OK, folks. Who wants to paint fences this summer! We’ve got a lot of fences to paint.”

About half the kids raised their hands. Those who raised their hands were escorted out of the room, I suppose to go and join the fence-painting crews.

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“OK, kids, now let’s see a show of hands again. Who wants to paint curbs!!! We’ve got a lot of fine curbs that need paining!” And half the remaining kids raised their hands, and were duly escorted off somewhere.

“Kids…listen! Who among you wants to paint fire plugs! We need some really good painters to paint fire plugs!” and most of the remaining 13-year-olds, figuring that they had held out for the good job, raised their hands and were taken away.

And there were six of us left. We had been herded to one corner of the room, where we sat on gray folding chairs at a tattered oblong table and stared at each other. Mike. Jane. Jack. Some other kids I don’t remember. Mike was a funny-looking kid with a strange bone disease, and he would tell everyone he met that he had only a few years to live. We were to hit it off really well. He was very short and a photographer and specialized in what he called “nostril shots.” Jane was very smart and nerdy. I totally got a crush on her. We would later do some nerdy stuff together, like hiking in the Adirondacks and going to used bookstores. I don’t really remember the other three kids very well.

As we sat there, a large, imposing, dashing but scary man…large-framed, trim and muscular, long hair tied back and a huge mustache, a loping gait and a dueling scar…came over to us. He put one foot up on a chair and stared menacingly at us, dour-mouthed and severe in countenance. I was eventually to get to know this man as well as I know anybody, and I would learn that this stance of his … the dour chair stance … always came just before a joke. Usually, the joke was entirely for his own benefit, and only rarely did anyone else get the joke.

(Indeed, as I think of it, I may have learned my own brand of obtuse humor from this man. But I digress.)

So this man, named Bob, stared at each of us kids–as we realized one by one that we had been left alone in this cavernous, now nearly empty room with this guy who looked a lot like a pirate.

And he said:

“You six. Painting fences wasn’t good enough for you? Are fireplugs beneath you?”

We all kind of looked at each other and nodded. We might have been scared of him, but this trimming down process had left him with a half dozen 13-year-olds with attitude.

“Good,” he responded. “As of right now, you’re archaeologists.”

And that was the start of my career.

And a new phase in my appreciation of music. But I’ve taken up too much of your time already. I’ll pick this thread up at a later time.