An Interview with an Apostate  

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You may have no interest in listening to an atheist podcast, but our latest episode is a little bit different than our normal format. We interview the Chaplain at Apostate's Chapel about her recent deconversion. So, if you're ever curious about what makes a person turn to atheism, listen in and see what the Chaplain has to say. Not only is she incredibly well-written on her blog, but well-spoken on the podcast.

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A Week of Sun April 23 - 29, 2008  

Wednesday

Orange - 6:46 AM CDT

Thursday

Stormy - 7:06 AM CDT

7:06 AM CDT

Friday

Overcast - 6:40 AM CDT

Saturday

Opaque sunset - 7:16 PM CDT

Sunday

Pale sunset - 8:07 PM CDT

Monday

Cloud ridges - 7:20 AM CDT

And just because... spring flowers - 4:31 PM CDT

Tuesday

Ghostly moon - 6:27 AM CDT

Sun in the trees - 6:38 AM CDT

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First Line Meme  

Monday, April 28, 2008

I stole this meme from The Ridger.

Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right. I'll put it in italics if the title has been gotten, but not the artist.
Step 5: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING.


1. When you beat on that drum
2. I was thinking that I might fly today
3. He's bitter and twisted
4. Swept away
5. Everything changed.
6. I knew you wanted to tell me
7. My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why
8. Bouncing off of clouds we were
9. Tempt me, I am invincible
10. You don't know, so don't say you do
11. In my hour of need
12. Childhood living is easy to do
13. Hold out your heart and on it let the sun shine down
14. When I think back on all the crap I've learned in high school
15. Life, it seems, will fade away
16. When I was a young boy I tried to listen
17. Yeah, you've got a pretty face
18. I can't do it
19. Want to get it all behind me
20. I was staring out the window
21. With a strut into the room
22. Said to myself "I´ll go up"
23. Did you believe them
24. Suede
25. And if I die today I'll be the happy phantom

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Cat's Delight  

I put out bird seed again last weekend for my cat. He loves to watch the birds and it's warm enough now to keep the sliding glass door open. Cats make the strangest noise when they watch birds. I don't know if they're trying to imitate them or it's some kind of involuntary response.

Anyway, some other bloggers I read have posted pictures of birds that they've observed. And some of these were unusual, so I decided to give it a try. It's not easy to get close and still get a good shot, especially through a screen.

I think that these are some sort of sparrow or junco. They're small and they're everywhere.



But this guy (or girl) has more distinctive features. He looks black or brown until he pokes his head into the sun. Maybe a common grackle?

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This Weeks Reader April 27, 2008  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Atheism
Why do I want to fight fundamentalism?
So, what do you think? Am I being a hypocrite when I rant about Christians proselytizing? I know from my own past experience and from my born-again friends and family that fundamentalists and evangelicals think they are actually helping people when they witness to them and tell them about the saving grace of Jesus. The classic explanation is that they know a bridge is out and people are driving forward full-speed to their deaths. Wouldn’t they be remiss not to shout out a warning? But I also know the unhealthy mental and emotional life which often results from the born-again experience.

Are good intentions enough? How can we know we are really helping people and not leading them into more garbage and confusion? Am I just the same as a missionary when I say that I want to do everything I can to help people recover from the damage that they’ve suffered from religion?


Cats*



Economics
Capitalism is unsustainable
Over the past few years I’ve spoken to several conservatives about economics and they can’t get it through their frakking heads that growth cannot be sustained infinitely. I don’t know if they can’t comprehend infinity or they can’t look beyond the ends of their noses to care about what their policies will do to future generations. But either way, whenever I mention that growth has limits and that eventually our economic system will collapse in on itself, they look at me like I have four heads. It might happen in 10 years or 100, but it will eventually happen if we continue with the same flawed system we have today.

International
Are the French turning into Prudes???
Well, he's right. But it surprised me. For years the French have had a laissez-faire attitude towards nudity. After all, the beaches are, for the most part, topless and even nudist, there is nothing unusual about a nude statue or paintings, or photos of nudes in public places on billboards, in fact, the French are almost as much at home with nudity as the Scandinavians, who have long held the opinion that your skin is ample covering for any occasion. My husband used to tease me about how prudish and Puritan the Americans are. There really is a completely different mind-set about nudity, accidental or otherwise. If Janet Jackson's whole shirt had fallen off here in France during that live Telecast, no one would have thought it a crime.

But is that changing? Carla Sarkozy's nude photo in the English newspapers went practically unmentioned here. The French press were strangley silent, and only a brief mention was ever made. Before, in the 70's or 80's, it would have been cause for national celebration. "Our first lady has a body to die for - and here's the proof!" Now it's an embarrassment.


Photography
Above the Clouds



Politics
Naomi Klein on social change
No Logo author Naomi Klein talks about the Montreal Massacre, crony capitalism, and writing for social change.

Mccain Vs. Mccain
McCain appears to think that he can magically unite the two main strands in the Republican foreign-policy establishment. But he can't. This is not about personalities but about two philosophically divergent views of international affairs. Put together, they will produce infighting and incoherence. We have seen this movie before. We have watched an American president unable to choose between his ideologically driven vice president and his pragmatic secretary of State—and the result was the catastrophe of George W. Bush's first term. Twenty-five years earlier, we watched another president who believed that he could encompass the entire spectrum of foreign policy. He, too, gave speeches that were drafted by advisers with divergent world views: in that case, Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski. It led to the paralyzing internal battles of the Carter years. Does John McCain want to try this experiment one more time?

Religion
Theocratic Quote of the Day
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

Torture - It's nothing new to Christians
This is why we have every right to criticize religion, even with the knowledge that our words are somewhat hurtful. People will cry out “but look at all the good Christianity does”. But if it can’t even rise to the occasion during blatant atrocity then what good is it as a moral institution? The Christians who, themselves, are against torture will claim this is an unfair attack. But it’s not! It’s a completely evenhanded assessment. There is nothing in the Christian code that makes it absolutely clear, for all Christians, at all times, that torture is grossly immoral. And that means the Christian religion is objectively useless when it comes to morality. If it can't instruct us unfailingly about such matters, then it is not needed for any moral issue. We can err on our own, without the supernatural trappings of religion!

Matt Taibbi Goes to a Christian Retreat
By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you’ve gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no “anything else.” All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this “our thing,” a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that’s all.

The Theistic Me vs. the Atheistic Me
Some Christians - not all, by any means - believe that when your child is born with a horrible congenital defect, it’s God’s will. Accept it and cope with it. He’s teaching you perfect love, patience, dependence on Him…. When ministers are assigned to parishes for which they are ill-suited, they are assured that God always works through the ecclesiastical system to place them just where He needs them. He’s teaching them wisdom, patience, obedience…. Such tenets are shallow and stupid, at least, frequently manipulative and, at their worst, abusive.

Sexism
It's good for Hillary, and even better for me
As a male, I’ve been privy to many discussions in which females were not present. Naturally you can not put a big emphasis on this type of anecdotal evidence. But it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty liberal guy and the types of people I associate with are hardly hard-core, conservative males. If I’ve repeatedly heard gender-based insults cast at Hillary, I can only imagine how much of it goes on in other, more macho circles.

Sexuality
Sex and a single (formerly Christian) woman
Understandably, these factors hindered me from truly enjoying my body and letting go. I never saw sex as dirty or sinful; it was my great desire for it that appeared to be the main problem. As a Christian and a young lady, I was taught to keep my legs locked until the right time, which usually meant the wedding night. "Making out" was akin to toeing a very dangerous and thin line. Plus, most men, I was taught, wanted a virgin to marry, not "used" goods. I heard awful messages such as, "If the milk is free, why bother to buy the cow?" "Who wants to buy a second-hand vehicle when you can get one that's brand-new?" "Once you lose it, you can never get it back." "Soul ties are created through sex, so save yourself for the right one (or you'll be sorry, I guess)." "There should only be one key for one lock." Ugh!

Skeptics



Writing
Optimamistic
What does my current swoon for Cambria say, other than I’m Microsoft’s font puppy? I really don’t know, other than I guess I’m enough of a geek to think about this stuff at all. I do know that I change favorite fonts on a regular basis. I don’t know what that means, either. I do know, however, that I can’t imagine a world in which I actually like Courier or any of its progeny. I’m aware it’s a standard and even use font in publishing, and I have even been known to format work into it, after I’m done writing, just like I double space everything after I’m done writing. Doesn’t mean I don’t hate it with something approaching a passion. It’s the opposite of esthetically pleasing. I wish it would die. But it won’t. At least I have Optima and Cambria to console me at the moment.

*A special category created for Philly

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Vietnamese Sunrise  

Saturday, April 26, 2008



The MoD sent me this picture of a Vietnamese sunrise. It's pretty, isn't it? Here's what he had to say about it:

The thing that stuck me about it, looks the same as ours and all others...doesn't it?

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Girls Don't Play Games  

Friday, April 25, 2008


It's a bit of a different culture now, but back when I was in college the general belief was that girls didn't play video games, especially not violent video games. Even when I was first on the Internet there was the suspicion that the "girl" in the chat session wasn't really a girl, no matter what the discussion was about. Once in IRC I mentioned that I played Doom and all hell broke loose about how I couldn't be a girl. One guy was really upset with me for faking the persona of a woman. His whole reason that I couldn't be a girl - "Girls don't play shooters."

I've always played video games, as far back as I can remember. We first had consoles and later a lovely Tandy PC Clone. And finally I had my own progression of PCs and consoles after college. And it's not just video games that have grabbed my attention over the years but board games and card games too.

Perhaps it's genetic. My father's never been a big fan of games. He also, heretic that he is in that sense, never liked sports. My brothers got involved in sports on their own, playing in school and later as spectators. My mom though, is a bigger fanatic than I am when it comes to games. I dare not introduce her to MMOs. She'll already stay up all night playing adventure, arcade, and puzzle games. I used to try to pry her away from the computer when she visited, but now I just leave her be. I know eventually she'll surface and we'll spend time together. It's her escape and that's part of what a vacation is about.

Most of the games I like fall into the god games, economic, strategy, and role-playing categories. For a while I gave up on shooters. Recently though I became addicted to Team Fortress 2. I'm not good at it, but it's still a lot of fun.

When I created my Steam account originally for registration of The Ship I didn't really think about online play. Most of my online game play is with a group of people I know, not strangers. So Ordinary Girl wasn't out of line. But it wasn't until I started playing Team Fortress 2 I realized that my name identifies me clearly as female.

I don't use the in-game chat. Matt and the other people we play with use Teamspeak to strategize separately. But every so often I hear someone comment on my name. I wonder if I'm just "that terrible female player." Fortunately the games are fast-paced enough that I doubt most people pay that much attention or really care.

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A Week of Sunrises Apr 16 - 22, 2008  

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wednesday: Deflected sunrise - 6:55 AM CDT

Cloud blanket - 6:55 AM CDT

Reflected sun - 7:13 AM CDT

Thursday: Sunrise glow - 6:36 AM CDT

Rainbow - 7:24 AM CDT

Shy sun - 7:27 AM CDT

Friday: Hazy clouds - 8:05 AM CDT

Saturday: Wispy sunset - 7:48 PM CDT

Sunday: Golden sunset - 7:47 PM CDT

The sun reflects off southern clouds - 7:47 PM CDT

Monday: Cloudy - 6:32 AM CDT

Tuesday: Another wet, gray day - 6:44 AM CDT

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This Weeks Reader April 20, 2008  

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Animation
Das Rad (The Wheel)



Education
It's Fundamental
RIF is in trouble. In a move that is, by now, completely unsurprising, Bush has eliminated all funding for the program--funding that has been given by every administration since 1975--in the 2009 proposed budget.

Games
Enterbrain president Hirokazu Hamamura has speculated that Nintendo may be preparing to unveil a new DS at its E3 press conference in July
According to Bloomberg Japan, Hamamura said Nintendo might be readying to show off the third iteration of its handheld system later this year during the E3 Media and Business Summit.

New PlayStation Store live, impressive
Beyond the glitz and glamor of the new look is a tighter integration between the PS3 store and the PSP store. The PlayStation 3 can now act as a download station for the PSP for more than just PlayStation 1 games: demos, videos, and the lot of PSP-specific content previously found on the PC version of the Store can now be found directly on the PS3 version. Downloading content to the PSP just got significantly easier, and better integrated with the PS3.

Ricky Gervais to make cameo in GTA IV
Ricky Gervais, star and creator of shows like The Office and Extras, will be making an appearance in Rockstar's upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV. Gervais will be found in the Liberty City comedy club, where players can see a digital version of the "character" perform three minutes of brand new material, as well as several extracts from his Fame tour.

Mortal Kombat and DC comics meet, in a very bad idea
So, we have what appears to be a 3D Mortal Kombat, which is one strike. Add in DC characters in a video game, which is strike two (at least historically), and then take away the fatalities? No sir. I am open to the possibility of this game not being total dreck, but that would be quite the surprise indeed.

Government
My letter to Monique Davis
In stating that atheists ‘believe in destroying’, you have shown incredible bigotry to all people who, for whatever reason, come to believe that God probably does not exist. I urge you to consider your atheist constituents and apologize to them, too, as a lawmaker who publicly stated that they did not have a right to be heard by the state government. I realize your comments were spoken in the heat of the moment. Please take the opportunity to put them right!

Science education, research need a boost from U.S.
Realizing that the government's commitment to science had become seriously weakened, the president and congressional leaders promised early in 2007 to double key research budgets, making long-term investments that could produce extraordinary breakthroughs.

However, when December came, science funding was clearly expendable, despite the enthusiastic support of clear majorities in both parties for the increases. One can only conclude that what is lacking is a sense of commitment, resolve and passion across the federal government that the investments we make in science today will create the opportunity for a better life for every American.


International
Oh, Canada



The Most Schadenfreudtastic Story of the Month
I’m not so petty that I hope Gonzalez does not find suitable employment, but given his immediate past record, I think it’s fairly evident that “the law,” “suitable employment” and “Alberto Gonzalez” really ought not be used together in a sentence, unless “is not” is placed between the first and second of these phrases. Unfortunately, that leaves “lick-spittlery” as Gonzalez’s only marketable skill, and, well. Link-spittlery really is a young person’s game, isn’t it. Gonzalez had a good run in that department with Bush, but he was rode hard and put away wet by the president, and everyone knows it. No one wants a tired old second-hand lick-spittler when new ones, young and dewy fresh, are thick on the ground. “Discarded Sycophant” just doesn’t make friends as a resume line item.

Photography
Sky Delights Over Sweden



A Protected Night Sky Over Flagstaff



Racism
Is “Negro” a Slur?
There is one common thread in all of this…and that is context. The context in which a word is used is very important. Using the word “Negro” in the context of an organization’s name does not make it okay to use in all contexts. Part of dealing with any culture involves understanding the contexts which apply to it. For example, I’ve been told that in some cultures, sitting with the sole of your shoe facing someone is insulting; in other cultures, making a “peace sign” with the back of your hand facing out is akin to “giving the finger.” In the Jim Crow South, a black man who smiled at a white woman, looked a white man in the eye for too long, or was merely in the wrong town (or part of town) after dark could (and would) get lynched. In 1955, 14-year-old Emmitt Till, visiting Mississippi from Chicago (!), was brutally murdered simply for saying “bye, baby” to a white woman. Understanding cultural contexts keeps you out of trouble.

Religion
My abstinence education
My own experiences make me wonder how many teens who are making chastity pledges are doing it because they are afraid to grow up. Now, I don’t think teens should have sex before they are ready, and no one should never do anything sexual that makes them uncomfortable. But you can’t avoid puberty and hiding in a cave of piety will not help you mature emotionally or spiritually. This type of behavior simply stunts growth and development. Looking back, I am sad for my younger self–sad that she missed out on so many wonderful experiences and that she was so afraid of everything. I am also sad that so many teens today are falling into the same trap, and that they are being encouraged to do so by their parents, pastors, and peers.

Standing Up For Nontheists Like Nicole
So far as I can see, god is an unnecessary hypothesis. That is, it seems to me the existence of god is not required to explain anything. And that fact accounts for most of my boredom — maybe all of my boredom — with the question of god’s existence.

Science
Bacteriophages to Fight Bacteria: Is this the Beginning of the End?
The interesting question to ask at this time is: Is this the Beginning of the end? Will the use of viruses - notably bacteria viruses that do not infect humans finally help science to solve the growing problems bacteria that has beleaguered mankind for millions of years? What if these scientifically targeted bacteria become resistance to the viruses, then what? Alexander Sulakvelidze and others on the show confidently stated that the problems of resistance to this "viral therapeutic use" should not be of concern for few reasons: First, bacteriophages are purely bacteria eating viruses and do not infect humans. The other was, these viruses are known to have evolved for billions of years with the bacteria themselves, and therefore, the viruses will evolve if the bacteria evolve to become resistant. Finally, the viral therapies will be target specific and the therapies have been successfully used before.

Sociology
Logical Fallacies and Cognitive Dissonance
This is often where the logical fallacies come into play - during the rationalization phase - the lies we tell ourselves to relieve our cognitive dissonance. It is a lot easier to commit a little logical fallacy, than to work hard at changing our emotional makeup, or to challenge long and strongly held beliefs. When logic and emotion conflict it is a lot easier to subtly (or not-so-subtly, depending on the sophistication of the person) twist the logic, rather than to painfully force ourselves to grow emotionally. In fact, intelligent people are often better at rationalization and are not necessarily more logical.

Coming Out of the Menstruation Closet
Why do I feel this way? It's utterly stupid. Because somehow my making these men aware of the fact that I am menstruating is going to make them briefly contemplate my vagina and then their heads will explode? Or is that I shouldn't impose my gross bleeding on other people because this is a Private Matter? And yet, I doubt I'm at all unique in having these particular thoughts. Like menstruation is a shame that we shouldn't impose on men. I never had anyone buy me pads or tampons until, I think, about three months ago. My boyfriend thought it was weird that I was like, "Are you sure? You don't mind?"

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Email Odds & Ends  

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lately I've been receiving emails asking for link love on my site or reviews of music or books or comments on my posts. Some of these are a kind of interesting, so I thought I'd share.

After reading Ute's post on the rules of marriage I received information about a new artist named Charlotte Sometimes and a link to one of her videos. The two immediately clicked, although I think they're only related superficially. Read Ute's post and then watch this video and see if you don't think so too.



A couple of years wrote a post about a license plate that I thought was funny. A very nice local wrote to let me know that the plate still exists and sent me proof. Thanks!



I received an email from Dreamr about my American Idol - Shout to the Lord post.

I am very familiar with that song and we go to a Baptist church. I think it was awesome that they sang it. My only complaint is they changed Jesus to shepherd the first night. Any time Jesus' name can get out there is fine with me, as His word will never return void. Why should people be offended, we live in AMERICA, you know the America that is supposed to be a Christian country. If I was in Iran I would expect to hear musllim songs. I am so tired of being politically correct. If you don't like it, you can always go back to where you came from. Just my thoughts, Dreamr
Um, Dreamr, I come from Illinios. If I went back I don't think that would solve your problem. See, America wasn't founded as a Christian nation. Besides, I didn't say that I wanted the song to be banned or anything. I found it odd is all and of course I thought it was kind of silly to be singing it on a pop idol show.

Thinking about it some more I suppose it did give me the impression that the charity event was supposed to be in some way "religious" as if the only way humans can be charitable is to be religious. But that might be my own sensitivity to the issue coloring my perception.

Mostly I had no idea at the time the song was so popular. I suppose that explains why they sang it. I went to churches that met in houses, basements, a hotel, and even an office building when I was growing up. We didn't sing traditional Christian hymns and much of the music that we sang was written by members of the church. It wasn't until a couple of people commented on my post that I realized that this song was popular outside of the small churches I attended.

Oh and I'm not moving back to Illinois. So you can just learn to deal with someone who has a different opinion than you, especially when you're coming to my blog to read my thoughts. That's the real philosophy that America was founded on, you know.

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Music Thursday  

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Garbage - Sex Is Not the Enemy



Charlotte Martin - The Dance (Live)
This certainly isn't my favorite song and the video's shakey camera makes it difficult to watch, but her voice shines through and the sound is actually better than most of the live video out there, so I hope you enjoy anyway. Look here and here for more professional, non-embeddable videos.

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Praise the Lord! Part III  

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Me with an awesome 80's haircut outside of our "lunchroom" at Heritage USA in 1987

One of my classmates and good friends at the time in front of a sign for the "Learning Center", another name for Heritage Academy

A few of my teachers out in front of the "lunchroom"

Jim Bakker resigned from PTL in the spring of 1987. The Bakkers disappeared from PTL and the press descended.

As students, we were no longer allowed to leave the building at lunch and we were barred from talking to the press. Not that it would have done much good to talk to me. I had very little idea of what was going on. I heard rumors, but I didn't know whether they were speculation or truth.

The rumors, as I remember were that Jerry Fallwell had taken over the ministry in a coup with the help of Richard Dortch. Most of the students couldn't stand either of them. Jimmy Swaggart was looked upon almost as badly for his words against the ministry. But then his own sexual misconduct was discovered and he faded fro the scene.

My impression was that Bakker had an affair with one of his secretaries in the World Outreach Center. But that was what I constructed not knowing any of the real details. Jessica Hahn was never employed by PTL, but she was a secretary for a church in New York. She also never visited the World Outreach Center, at least not in Bakker's company. But he did have an affair with her in a hotel in Florida.

I also heard whispered comments about his sex life. I remember my mom asking a friend of hers whether she thought Jim was a homosexual and then turning quickly to me as she realized I was there and asking me if I knew what a homosexual was. I had no idea what to make of them, so I mostly just ignored them. It wasn't until recently I realized all of the accusations against Bakker.

My mom had been working as a reservationist at the Heritage Grand Hotel since the summer before. She often complained to us that people with lifetime partnerships were being turned away because the hotel was booked past capacity, even as the Bakkers were selling more partnerships. Callers were often angry that their donation wasn't being honored, but there was nothing the hotel could do. The rooms were booked through the end of 1986 and then quickly to the end of 1987. That, in the end, was Jim's undoing. We stayed once in the Grand and it was a lovely experience, but if I'd understood then what the hotel had been built on I probably wouldn't have enjoyed my stay.

For more information about lifetime partnerships, Jim's scandal, and the climate of tele-evangelism at the time, watch the video below.



Other than the idea that something big was going on, my life pretty much continued as normal. I went to public school following that year at PTL, but it was a small high school in Fort Mill and I attended with friends I'd met at Heritage Academy.

I also started working part time during the summer and the school year. Several of my friends at Heritage Academy had applied for jobs as lifeguards at the water park. But I wasn't a good swimmer, so I worked at a nearby mall instead. But eventually I would return to Heritage USA.

Read the other parts of my story

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A Week of Sunrises Apr 9 - 15, 2008  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wednesday: Clear, calm day - 6:54 AM CDT

Thursday: Rain - 6:55 AM CDT

Mix of sun and storm - 5:07 PM CDT

The storm on its way out - 5:08 PM CDT

Friday: Pastel painted morning - 6:57 AM CDT

But there's still signs of the storm on the horizon - 6:57 AM CDT

Though the sun peeks through - 7:55 AM CDT

Saturday - More storms - 10:28 AM CDT

Sunday - Not long before the sun set - 6:25 PM CDT

Later, the very last rays of the sun peek through the trees - 8:04 PM CDT

Monday: The sun is rising almost too far to the North to catch from my patio. Next week I'll need to cross the street to catch the sun and I may lose a good perspective of it before summer is done - 6:56 AM CDT

Sunset with a jet trail - I always imagine these are comets at first, but I've never seen a comet before that's so slow moving or that leaves a trail - 7:37 PM CDT

Tuesday: Sunrise with a few circling birds - 6:42 AM CDT

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"Everything Happens for a Reason" and other pet peeves  

One of my biggest pet peeves is the phrase, "Everything happens for a reson." Another is courier font, but that's off the subject. That's why I was pleased to see Greta Christina's article "Everything happens for a reason": Atheism and Learning from Mistakes. Go take a look. She makes a lot of very good points that I've used myself to argue against this vomitous phrase.

But one thing I was discussing with my husband the other night while watching Big Brother 9 (see stupid reality shows actually server some purpose) is that the belief that everything happens for a reason also leads us to a sense that we are being punished or rewarded by some higher power for our actions.

I ran into this in my early life at church. In the rationalization for why bad things happen to good people, many Christians believe that the only reason something bad could happen to a person is that they deserved it. God was teaching them a lesson. It's the same sort of reasoning that leads people to praise God for bringing them closer to "Him" after a child's death. There was a reason for the child's death in learning the lesson of returning to God.* Of course many atheists dismiss that type of argument largely for the reason if that's true then God is a cold-blooded murderer for killing the child.

But the flip side is that many people feel feel entitled when good things happen to them. If a lot of good things happen to someone, well then they must be a good person. And looking over to the less fortunate, there is a sense that the more fortunate are better because they are being rewarded by a higher power.

And I think in the long run it leads the privileged to a sense of entitlement. They deserve what they have because they are good people and poor people or sick people or people who face tragedy in some way must be bad people to deserve that kind of fate.

And each time I encounter that reasoning I feel ill. It's exactly the type of reasoning that goes against the general tenants of Christianity that I respect like feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, and in general being charitable. And it's exactly the type of attitude that leads us to place divides between ourselves and other humans. It leads to a lack of sympathy, which I think is dangerous. Because if you can't be sympathetic with someone who is facing a difficult situation, how can you react as a good person, if you don't believe that person deserves your sympathy?

But then maybe I'm blowing it way out of proportion. In any case, that phrase is one of the few innocuous phrases that can raise my blood pressure.

*No, I don't classify all Christians or all religionists or even all woo-ists(?) in this way, but it's an attitude I've found expressed more and more in popular culture.

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This Weeks Reader April 13, 2008  

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Atheism
Bill Maher is a crank
Bill Maher is a Luddite, who has tried to blame the death of bees on cell phones has engaged in anti-vaccine wingnuttery, routinely complains of mysterious "toxins", supports animal rights extremists, and generally has a disgusting "blame-the-victim" mentality towards health. Lung cancer may be a largely self-inflicted illness, but the other big cancer killers? Breast cancer? Prostate cancer? Pancreatic and colorectal cancers? Each may have a small environmental component, but most cancers aside from those caused by cigarettes have much more minor contributions from lifestyle and environment. That is not to say these contributions do not exist, but compared to cigarettes the relative risks of misbehavior are astronomically smaller. Most of these cancers have overwhelmingly genetic risk factors and the number one risk factor is almost always family history. Maher's statement that cancers are "hatched" or that there is only "some" genetic component is typical of his ignorance of medicine, his blame-the-victim mentality towards disease, and is just as despicable as his depiction of medicine as a killer.

Comedy
Baby... burrito.. same thing



Education
Evolution on the table top
Evolution has taken another step away from being dismissed as “a theory” in the classroom, thanks to a new paper published this week in the online open-access journal PLoS Biology. The research article, by Brian Paegel and Gerald Joyce of The Scripps Research Institute, California, documents the automation of evolution: they have produced a computer-controlled system that can drive the evolution of improved RNA enzymes—biological catalysts—without human input. In the future, this “evolution-machine” could feature in the classroom as well as the lab, allowing students to watch evolution happen in their biology lessons.

Games
LittleBigPlanet coming to PSP
LittleBigPlanet is currently in development for PSP at Sony Studio Liverpool, a source has told CVG today.

No further details were offered as to how the game will work on the PSP, but if true, we'd expect the portable edition to feature link up options with the PS3 version, set for release in September.


Games for Windows magazine shuts down, staff moves online
Unfortunately, it looks like the realities of the marketplace has caught up with Games for Windows magazine: the print magazine will be shutting down, although the staff will continue writing for the 1UP Network, and the Sims 3 issue will be its last in print.

Upstart Gamer Doc to take on GameStop with themed stores
Huether is blunt with what he sees as the problem with existing retail stores. "There is too much merchandise packed into too little space with too little differentiation," he told Ars. Gamer Doc wants to be more of an experience than other gaming stores, and the company hopes that its unique store themes will help in that regard. "We are fully developing three designs that will be turnkey for our franchisees," he says. "In addition, they will be able to personalize the look of each of the designs to incorporate unique aspects of their market into the look and feel of their store and our brand." He cites Disney as an example of how to build a "consistently strong brand."

Government
The sacred right to rape children
His logic goes like this: because the United States federal government sends troops to foreign lands to fight wars, and because these troops engage in violence and sometimes to terrible things to innocent people, therefore the police officers of Texas have no right to point fingers at religious wackos who think God wants them to rape little girls. Indeed, although “there is no moral defense one could possibly make” of raping children, nevertheless, it is “difficult to tolerate” the “self-righteousness” of the state police or prosecutors who would insist on intervening to protect children from rape, given that federal officials sometimes endorse violent warfare. After all, the U.S. has “killed over one million” people in Iraq (we’ll put aside asking where that number comes from) and is now threatening “innocent” Iran*—and “such practices appear to be occurring, once again, on the plains of Texas.” Shaffer, of course, isn’t defending child rapists, no no. He’s just calling them “innocent” victims of unfair government aggression.

Why I Have Not Participated In Any Tax Evader’s Project
Perhaps you’ve been told that you don’t have to pay the Income Tax. I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news to you, but all of the theories floating around are based on misguided or dangerous interpretations of the income tax rules. And, as I’ll demonstrate later in this article, they’re not the best way to end the Income Tax and win a much smaller, constitutionally limited government.

International
Brain Gym




Editor's Note: Hmm.. where did this come from? I didn't hear Kansas OR Arkansas, but I thought I heard California.

Shock at polar bear's carp kill
Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut has triggered a new controversy by fishing out 10 live carp from his moat and killing them in front of visitors.

Editor's Note: Good for you Knut. After all, why should a wild animal act like humans want him to just because he's hand reared?

Tibet’s Olympian opportunity
The torch will arrive in New Delhi in less than a week. Considering the large Tibetan population in India, a serious security problem is anticipated and well, the protesters are determined to disrupt the march. I can’t help but wish them the best of luck, because all they want to do is stop the march. They don’t intend to indulge in any violence. They are simply using the Olympics to draw attention to their cause. Which is not necessarily a separate homeland for Tibet, although some radicals demand this. It is important to remember that the Dalai Lama has agreed that Tibet is a part of China. All he is asking for is autonomy but the Chinese are not agreeable to this either.

Religion
Commentary: What is this thing called religion?
Moreover it is not clear that "primitive" religions were religions at all, as we have come to understand the concept; they were more like rudimentary forms of science and technology. It seems likely that their espousers did not regard gods and spirits as supernatural, but as straightforward parts of nature, operating in fairly systematic ways as instigators of wind, thunder and other natural phenomena, and amenable to manipulation through sacrifice and observance of taboo. There is a marked difference between someone who holds contemporary Christian evangelical views and an ancient Egyptian who literally felt his god on his back - Ra, the sun - every day of the week.

The different epistemologies of science and religion
So the next time you hear someone say that religion and science do not conflict, the key question to ask is: which religion? The speaker's? Of course they would say that. But is it true? Science constrains rational religion, while no religion, Plantinga notwithstanding, constrains rational science. So when the two conflict, as they must given that they often attempt to explain the same phenomena, which one is it rational to adopt and teach?

A Cult By Any Other Name
One observation I made while reading the various news reports as the story unfolded this weekend was how the cult was described by the media. For some reason, the media is afraid to call them what they are: a cult. CNN described them as a “rogue church”. USA Today calls them a “polygamist-sect”. The Associate Press reports that they are “a congregation.” This is utter political correctness at its absolute worst. FLDS and The YFZ Ranch are a cult, and to call it anything else is insulting to those that know better, including experts on destructive cults such as The Rick Ross Institute, who has been accurately reporting the despicable conduct of this particular cult for a decade now. It is even more insulting to the living victims of cults, and it is entirely disrespectful to the memory of those that have died at the hands of cults.

Bring on the McGay, Bitch!
I hate to break it to the children of born-again parents, but you will never be allowed to have another Happy Meal again. Wanna know why? Mostly because your parents are batshit crazy, and think that because McDonald's is now a corporate sponsor of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, if you eat a Happy Meal you will instantly turn into a homosexual. But not just your run-of-the-mill homosexual, but instead, a raging, maniacal, crazy-eyed homosexual with an agenda. THAT GAY ONE! Then after you've tried turning everyone else into a raging, maniacal, crazy-eyed homosexual, you'll be damned to hell for all eternity. All because you ate a Happy Meal! Way to go, kid. I hope the crappy toy was worth it.

Thomas Jefferson Endorses Rev. Moon
From beyond the grave. Yes, it sounds like a bad movie. But the moonies seriously claim this. In fact, they claim that damn never every famous dead person in history with any tie to religion or politics has endorsed Moon in the "spirit world" where they are apparently convinced of the truth of Unificationism by Sang Hun Lee, a dead Moon. And yes, this would be a bad joke if I was actually making it up. But I'm not. Seriously.

A New Planet?
Yet the questions become greater and hold more intensity if it turns out there is life on a distant planet. What if there are beings with consciousness who are similar to us (whether more advanced or not) who never even heard of a religion or a god? Or have a god or gods that are laughable to modern Christians, Jews, Muslims, and/or Hindus (etc)? Imagine a Christian trying to "save" a distant planet inhabitant with the words of Jesus and the Bible and being heartily laughed at. Here, we know better; we respect mass accepted beliefs* (to a point).

It’s My Fault Indonesia is Totalitarian
If Muslims really want to say that Fitna is wrong, the best thing they can do is send death threats to people who post the film stop supporting people who blow things up. Or, if they already don’t support people who blow things up, they can actively speak out against the people who blow things up.

Science
Water's benefits questioned by scientists
Now there's no reason to feel guilty for not hydrating during aerobics class because there's not much evidence showing that drinking "lots" of water will improve our health, according to the editorial "Just Add Water" by University of Pennsylvania researchers in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

That means excessively hydrating won't necessarily clear toxins from your system, keep organs healthy, curb hunger pains, reduce headaches and improve your skin tone, said authors Dan Negoianu and Stanley Goldfarb of Penn's Renal, Electrolyte and Hypertension Division.


Mysterious White Rock Fingers on Mars



Brain Dead
A PET scan was performed at 36 hours. PET scanning (technically referred to as Technetium-99m hexamethylpropyleneamineoxime brain scan) is a measure of blood flow to the brain. Zack’s doctor, Leo Mercer, showed his parents the scan - his brain was entirely black. No blood flow. This was sufficient to meet criteria for brain death. The process of organ donation began.

About four hours later, while the family was saying their goodbye’s, Zack moved his foot in response to his cousin rubbing a knife blade along his foot. His responsiveness was confirmed by squeezing his nail-bed - he moved his arm with clear purpose. The diagnosis of brain death was set aside, and the process of organ donation was stopped, Zack was returned to full care and he slowly recovered. Zack’s story came up in the news again recently following a TV interview in which he said that he was doing OK.


A Mutual Affair
The front entrance of the burrow is often reinforced with bits of shell and coral — all of which is done by the shrimp. The goby just sits in the entrance of the burrow, keeping guard and warning the shrimp, which is nearly blind, of danger. At any sign of danger — a diver coming too close, a passing predator — the goby darts into the burrow. If the goby zooms in, the shrimp hastily retreats deep inside. And before the shrimp emerges from the burrow, it touches the goby’s tail with its long antennae. To show it’s safe to come out, the goby gently wiggles its tail. When the shrimp is out of the burrow, it keeps one antenna touching the goby. If the goby suddenly retreats, so does the shrimp.

Ancient serpent shows its leg
A fossil animal locked in Lebanese limestone has been shown to be an extremely precious discovery - a snake with two legs.

Scientists have only a handful of specimens that illustrate the evolutionary narrative that goes from ancient lizard to limbless modern serpent.

Researchers at the European Light Source (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, used intense X-rays to confirm that a creature imprinted on a rock, and with one visible leg, had another appendage buried just under the surface of the slab.


At first, he couldn't see the Moon



Sexism
Explaining (Away) Women Geeks
The article on Mayer follows this pattern, simultaneously overexposing her - a female Google VP must take some explaining! - and erasing her, attributing her success to powerful male associates and focusing on her looks and "womanly" hobbies. Thus, she can be celebrated even as she is diminished. In the end, we need not be threatened by her; she is an aberration, she's still a real woman despite that odd love of technology, she didn't really do that geeky stuff all herself anyway. Technology remains firmly enshrined as a masculine domain, and Real Women don't do technology.

Skeptics
The Skeptologists



Sociology
The Divergent Brain
I mean, consider some simple facts about the current state of our civilization. We can solve problems with computers billions of times faster than we ever imagined possible. We can create a means by which we leave our planet, venture out beyond gravity’s reach, experiment in the weightlessness of space, and return home safely. We can load a thousand jukeboxes worth of music onto a device the size of a matchbox and listen to the studio-quality sound through earphones the size of pinto beans. We can organize hundreds of thousands of jet take offs and landings everyday without major incident. We can track storms and predict the weather with great accuracy. We can generate and regulate the energy flowing through entire countries. We can develop vaccines that cure little buggers that only a few short decades ago would kill us. We can stand in Houston, Texas and talk to someone on the other side of the globe with a wireless phone no bigger than a box of Tic Tacs. And we can pipe high quality pornography right into our homes over satellite feeds, cables, and telephone wires.

Yet there are many millions of people in the United States that, though they’ve seen the monumental successes of science, and though they proudly use the applications of those successes every single day, refuse to turn loose archaic ideas of how we came to be here and where we might be going.

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