The Waning Hours Of 2012

Here it is. December 31st 2012.

What a ride! The silly Mayan stuff. A terrifying American election. Horrific tragedies (followed-up with spectacularly stupid ideas) and personal failures and extraordinary pride and world-beating accomplishments.

There were many big changes in my own life this year too:

  • I left Microsoft for Azaleos.
  • Only to have Azaleos begin a morph into Avanade.
  • In health, my weight seems to have plateaued again between 216 and 220 pounds; but my body fat percentage has dropped and I have definitely become stronger than ever.
  • Early in the year, I dove into the 3D art world with Carrara and toward the end of the year, I began to continue that journey with LightWave.

Of course, now Americans (and us ex-patriots living here) now have to face the so-called Fiscal Cliff. I think the CBC’s Washington Correspondent Neil Macdonald described it perfectly:

What other democratic nation’s leaders, after all, would deliberately design a fiscal disaster and aim the country’s economy straight for it?

And then stand back, holding news conferences, double-dog-daring each other to step over some imagined line, chanting the political equivalent of nana-nana-boo-boo?

My own thoughts about the Fiscal Cliff? I hope this country plunges over that cliff. Yes, that will hurt me…it will hurt everyone. But the United States cannot carry on mortgaging its future and it has been doing that for so long that ending the cycle and recovering from it will hurt. Taxes should be raised. Spending in the military should be cut. Spending should shifted to building up infrastructure – especially building several new nuclear power plants (like military spending, this creates jobs for tens of thousands of people for several years and will cut pollution and foreign oil dependence).

So what happens tomorrow? In about 18 hours, I’ll start to find out.

The World Breathes A Sigh Of Relief

Congratulations President Obama!

I am so glad for these results, that rationality and sanity won out (albeit not without some setbacks – Pete Stark lost his seat in Congress). What a huge gift it was to hear that Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and Richard “Rape Is God’s Will” Mourdock lost their campaigns. It is also great to see more women representing this nation – 18 female Senators is an all-time high. Tammy Baldwin is also the first openly gay Senator.

I am also excited to see Elizabeth Warren win her Senate race. I’ve long been a fan of her work and advocacy of commercial reforms.

Maine, Minnesota, Washington and Maryland all approved marriage equality laws. More progress towards becoming a civilized nation that respects humanity in all its diverse forms.

Progress! Slow – often painfully slow – but sure progress.

I definitely feel better about continuing to live in this country.

The 35th FFRF Convention

This post is a week late – things got really crazy at work! Sorry! I’ll also post about the travel hiccups that I had later.

I had a great time at the latest FFRF Convention! This was only the second convention that I have attended but it will definitely not be the last. As a Life Member of FFRF, I’ll be aiming to attend every annual convention from here out.

After registering, we had group bus tours through the Columbia River Gorge. The Pacific Northwest had been experiencing an almost unheard of drought of over 80 days without rain. Unfortunately, this was the day that the drought broke. The rainy weather could not drench my enthusiasm though. This was an informative tour with some spectacular views. The tour made stops at a salmon spawning river, Horsetail Falls, Multnomah Falls and Wahkeena Falls.

My Flickr set of photos of the gorge trip is here.

On Friday evening we were given updates on Jessica Ahlquist’s and Max Nielson’s situations. Their stories have fallen out of the ADD-ridden news media; but they are not yet over by a long-shot. I wish all the best to both of them and look forward to successful conclusions.

A major highlight of this year’s conference was hearing Richard Dawkins acceptance speech of FFRF’s The Emperor Has No Clothes award. It was really two speeches in one. The first half examined the excessive use of metaphor by “sophisticated theologians.” The fundamentalists in America appear to honestly believe the things that they say they do; but the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury (who both believe in the correctness of evolution) often speak about Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden like they were real places. No doubt, their less sophisticated congregations are not picking up on the use of metaphor and are believing this material literally.

Dawkins then deviated into the political, what with the impending Presidential election. He opined that a candidate’s religious views should be put under scrutiny just as much as their economic or social views. Of course, Mitt Romney provides the best example of this. He allegedly believes provably false ideas (Israelites in the Americas!) and racist ideas. If he wants to be the most powerful man in the world, he ought be accountable for these ideas.

Of course, I had Professor Dawkins sign my copy of The God Delusion and I thanked him for throwing me the first life-line toward reason.

During Saturday’s Non-Prayer Breakfast, I was able to speak to Sean Faircloth about his excellent book, Attack Of The Theocrats. No matter what views you have on religion, this book is a must-read.

Saturday was a busy but interesting day. Katherine Stewart discussed how the Good News Club slimes its way into public schools. Rather chilling and something I’m going to watch for in my school district. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel gave an excellent presentation about debunking the myth that America is a Christian nation.

We heard from “graduates” of The Clergy Project. This is an important initiative; one that I hope sees many more graduates in the future. I suspect that there is a large population of atheist pastors, priests and such that are forced to live a lie.

The convention ended on a high note for me personally. I won one of the raffle drawings for “clean money.” These are American currency bills that were printed before the 1957 law that tainted them with “In God We Trust.” I won a $20 bill printed in 1934 – a thing of beauty!

I hold on to a vision of a world that is not choking under the stranglehold of religion. The human race deserves to rise to fullest potential without being dragged down by a past that it is growing out of.

Disappointed With Australia’s Marriage Equality Vote

Last Wednesday the Australian government voted against marriage equality. That depressed me since polls show that a majority of Australians support equality.

I suspect that much of my disappointment stems from trying to understand Prime Minister Gillard. I am thrilled that an out atheist is the head of a major country. I was impressed when she cancelled speaking at a Christian group when they made statements equating being gay with the health hazards of smoking. Wow! I wish American politicians had a commitment to reality like that.

Yet, Gillard does not support marriage equality. I don’t understand it.

Of course, atheism does not automatically equate with certain social issues. We are seeing the emergence of so-called Atheism + that tries to tie atheism to these social issues. Once I became an out atheist, I almost immediately began supporting rights and equality for LGBT people. Simply put; I realized that all the arguments to supress the LGBT community was entirely religious – I could not think of a single purely secular reason. Since I rejected religion, I had to reject the idea that fellow human beings could not be permitted to marry those that they loved.

I’d love to chat with Ms. Gillard about that.

In the mean time, several more states in the USA have marriage equality votes pending as part of their participation in the November federal election. I am hoping that more of this country sees the light and removes the pointless barriers that block fellow human beings from happiness.

Thoughts On The Chick-fil-A Fiasco

Last week, every time that I began to write about this something new would crop up. The brouhaha seems to have finally calmed down. Of course; any one who knows me already know which side of the argument that I am on.

At first I applauded when the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco stated that they didn’t want a Chick-fil-A store in their cities. However, I am glad to say that reason returned to my mind. It was wrong to politicize this issue (though it was important for political leaders to speak out as they did, it is preferable to allow the free market to deal with it). I owe a nod to Matthew Paul Turner – a Christian writer – who wrote 5 Reasons Why The Church Failed Yesterday about the failure of the politicization of this issue:

People felt hate and we ignored that. At the end of the day, regardless of whether or not your Christian understanding of scripture harbors hate or not, a large group of people felt hated…

Yesterday’s hoopla surrounding CFA did nothing to prove that Christians don’t hate gay people. Oh I know that most Christians will say, “I don’t hate gay people!!”

But did supporting CFA Appreciation Day prove that?

As a humanist, I want the best for everybody. If two people love each other and want to marry, they should have that as a right. Religion has often (always?) been at the forefront of supressing people’s rights. In spite of this, we humans have slowly moved forward and made life better.

There was a time when a group of humans with some genetic differences that gave them larger breasts, wider hips and even a different way of peeing, were regarded as inferior to the rest of the humans. These humans were treated as property for far too long. That slowly changed. There is another group of humans with some genetic differences that gave them darker skin; these humans were also seen as inferior and treated as property for too long.

Those struggles still continue to a certain, sad, extent. Today, we have a group of humans with some genetic differences that give them a predilection toward the same gender. This group is often marginalized and treated as inferior or broken. Yet, in time, they too will win out.

I can hardly wait for that day to arrive.

Congratulations NASA on landing Curiosity!

I was so very pleased to wake this morning and read about the successful landing of the Curiosity Mars Science Lab. What a fantastic achievement! But to immediately follow that up with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter capturing the Curiosity decent – a thousand levels of awesome.

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait said it perfectly:

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

Then Dork Tower came out with a great take on news today.

Happy Birthday 145th Canada!

Before you argue that I am a day late, Canada Day can be celebrated on the following Monday if July 1st falls on a Sunday!

Regardless of the day, Canada is still the very best nation on Earth in my admittedly biased opinion.

34th Annual FFRF Convention

From October 6th to the 10th, I spent my vacation in Hartford, Connecticut to attend the FFRF Annual Convention.

What an amazing time!

After pre-registering on Friday morning, I attended one of the first trips to the Mark Twain House & Museum. Samuel Clemens and his family lived there for 17 years until he had to sell it in 1903 due to personal bankruptcy. What I found most amazing about this was the hardcore geek that Clemens was for his time. The house features indoor plumbing, forced-air heating, telephone, intercom and even a burglar alarm system.

I met many wonderful people, including some of the people being honoured at the convention. The student activists were truly inspirational – indeed; I wish that I had my current convictions when I was their age and their courage to stand up for the First Amendment.

Three new books have been added to my ever-growing freethinking reading list. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s  36 Arguments For The Existence of God: A Work Of Fiction. Lastly (and this one I have nearly finished reading already) is Professor Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True.

Awesomely, I was able to get each of them signed by the authors.

I will definitely attend next year’s convention in Portland, Oregon!

Cheers To Mayor Bloomberg!

My extend my praise and admiration for New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg!

Amid strong opposition from the Religious Right lobbyist groups, His Honour is insisting on keeping the upcoming September 11 Memorial non-religious. All religion is divisive and exclusive; it is precisely those properties that led to the sadness and destruction of that terrible day.

Not all victims were Christian. Surely many were atheists, agnostic, pagan or otherwise non-religious. Those beliefs and non-beliefs are certainly reflected in their family and friends who mourning their loss.

Be strong Mayor Bloomberg. Let’s make this memorial event include everybody.

Recent Links & Thoughts On Facebook

It has been over 18 months since I quit Facebook. The company is pervasive and influential and thus keeps generating news stories either directly or indirectly.

Apparently, those who decline to use Facebook or cellphones face a social stigma. I found this to be quite interesting.

I confess that I do miss certain social aspects of Facebook; I had access to conversations that would be nearly impossible (or decidedly inconvenient) in any other medium. I was “friends” with people that I respect very deeply – notably, Paul Randal and Bill Hill. Indeed, Bill described my quitting as petulant. That gave me a moment of pause to seriously consider my choice.

My reasons for leaving FB were rooted entirely in their lack of respect for privacy and these reasons ultimately outweighed the pleasure I received from those unique conversations.

…the idea that refusal is the only legitimate way to protest something that one thinks is problematic, unconscionable, unethical or immoral.

While I have zero love for Facebook, I stay on it because otherwise I’d miss out on 75 per cent of the invitations in my friends group…

– Alice Marwick, Microsoft Research

More interesting was that Marwick’s study suggested that shunning cellphones also received social punishment. I have a cellphone, but I barely use it. I hate the thing. I pay about $45 per month and I do not get even $5 worth of value from it. Even when my employer provided everyone with a free Windows Phone 7, I refused the offer. While it a very neat device, I can see that I won’t get any use from it that I consider worth the monthly expense.

If my cellphone cost no more than $10 per month, I would embrace the technology.

In Canada a study discovered that teenagers were likely to be more aware of privacy concerns on social media than older adults. They are also more likely to take greater risks online though. There is nothing new in pointing that what gets on the internet, stays on the internet…forever. There are already established tales of people suffering the consequences – intended or otherwise – from exposing their private lives online.

What really got me angry was the Slashdot posting about German news site Heise and their work about changing Facebook’s “like button” into a two-click confirmation process. You may not know this, but Facebook is tracking you via that button even if you have never signed-up for Facebook. This ought to outrage you – yet it is barely known. Furthermore, Facebook is now trying to blacklist Heise.

Here is a company giving its users more privacy and control. If you really want to “like” a given external web page on your Facebook profile, you still can. But other users do not get the stealth tracking data sent back to Facebook World Domination HQ.

I hope that this two-click confirmation catches on and becomes so popular that Facebook will be forced to accept it. Give users real choice and not illusory choice. That is all that I am asking for.

Heck, I wouldn’t rule out a return to Facebook if it were more open to real privacy controls.

Optimism For American Politics

Scott “Dilbert” Adams recently posted And A Barista Will Lead Them about a possible change in how American politics can work.

Our dynamic political system offers alternatives when we get in this sort of a fix. At the moment, the two most credible challengers to replace President Obama believe that if we pray hard enough we can fix things with magic.

Although that depresses me with its honesty, Adams’ idea is actually a hopeful one. He is referring to Starbuck’s CEO Schultz’s public suggestion for businesses to stop donating to political parties as the first step in a bloodless coup.

I would go so far as to say that donating to a politician or political party in this environment is as close as an ordinary citizen can come to treason. Political contributions broke the government, and a government that stays broken will doom the country.

Very interesting!

I do think a big part of the problem is that corporations got themselves to be treated as people. That is one of the biggest things that must change for this country to get back on its feet and start exceling again. We’ll begin with baby steps and see how Schultz’s idea reverberates.

For now, I have tentative hope.

Now Rick Perry’s Run For POTUS Makes Terrifying Sense…

I had a sneaky feeling that there was more to Rick Perry’s illegal (sadly, uncharged) endorsement of The Response prayer rally. His announcement about running for President didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I had no idea that it could get much worse…

I just read Michelle Goldberg’s article A Christian Plot for Domination.

Terrifying stuff if even a quarter of it is true.

To be fair, I also read a dissenting piece by A. Larry Ross. I considered what he had to say but I think that it comes up short; this is especially true with respect to his points about the separation of church and state and the cherry-picking of scriptures.

The United States is facing a crisis with its political situation. I am relieved to not be a citizen here – but I am stuck living here for the time being.

Oh No!

I should have seen this coming…

The idiot governor of Texas is running for President. I agree with several of the comments on the CBC site:

  • Just what the USA needs, an evangelical Christian at the helm of the country. That will surely speed up the swift and painful demise of what was once the world’s only superpower.
  • Time to get America to cook the books again.
  • Well he loves Jesus and calls global warming "all one contrived phony mess" so the rednecks will love him. They’d much rather trust an evangelist than the world’s scientific community.

The possibility of another Pastor-In-Chief in Washington is truly terrifying.

Although I am tempted to say something about moving to another country if he wins; I’m not sure I’ll be in a position financially to pull up roots that quickly. I’ll just have to watch what happens carefully and plan for the worst.

The Texas Drought & Delusions In The Government

I keep annoying my colleagues by quoting temperatures in Celsius rather than the Fahrenheit scale that they refuse to let go of. Regardless, the temperatures around Texas have been brutal for the last few weeks.

Like many others here, I was looking forward to tropical storm Don and the rain that it would surely bring. Wow! I don’t think anybody expected this:

don-dissipation-600x405

POOF! Now you see it, now you don’t!

Of course, many Texans are trying to link this weather to the wrath of some fictional deity. Even the governor is in on that delusion; Perry is sponsoring a Christian prayer and fasting rally. Unfortunately, the FFRF lawsuit against him was dismissed. I wish I could be in Houston to help protest this foolishness.