Archive for July, 2008

Book Reviews

Posted by tungtide on July 31, 2008, 1:22 pm

As part of the ongoing development of my disbelief I felt that it would be a good idea to see what other, more prominent, members of the community are writing. Over the last couple months in the limited free time that I have, I’ve read three atheism-related books: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, and I Sold My Soul on eBay by Hemant Mehta (see Friendly Atheist).

Both Dawkins and Hitchens are written for an audience that already agrees with them. They take a fundamental stance (not to be compared to Fundamental, as in the belief structure) that assumes atheism should be the default position and continue from there. Dawkins is patient and reasonable in his arguments, avoiding confrontation when necessary, working to build a case that supports atheism as viable world view. Hitchens is more combative and while moderated somewhat in the book, he’s more likely to be forthright and offensive to those who disagree. I’m not saying that either of those books are bad. They do cater to a specific audience and are not likely to be well-received as tools of conversion (if that’s your ultimate goal).

Mehta’s book is different in a very good way. He takes his role as a friendly atheist seriously as he chronicles his journey visiting various churches around the country. The purpose of his initial eBay auction was to see if he was missing something in Christianity after leaving behind Jainism to become an atheist. Hemant enters these churches with an open mind and a notepad, characterizing the good and the bad of churches large, small, and mega.

Again, not a tool for conversion, but rather a great conversation piece. This is the kind of book that can help atheists and Christians understand their common ground and dispel many of the misappropriated beliefs placed on each group.

All in all I would recommend I Sold My Soul on eBay over the other books.


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Stand Up, Do Something

Posted by tungtide on July 29, 2008, 12:38 pm

Richard Wade, one of the authors at Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist site has written an excellent post on why the Christian population is seen as accepting the views of the loud-mouthed minority in their ranks. It’s because there are not enough people standing up to denounce these sorts of actions.

For instance, why aren’t you picketing outside The Christian Action League of North Carolina and other institutions of faith-based hate in every city? When atheists protest such things they’re dismissed as, well, atheists. If six Christian churches did the same protesting wherever it occurs it would be big news.

It is as much the responsibility of the believers as it is of the non-believers to stand up for justice and equality. Whether I believe in him or not, whether he was fictional or not, Jesus preached a message of tolerance, acceptance, and equality. This message is supposed to shape the actions of Christians and the way they interact with the world.

And Mary called me a hater 🙂

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A Response

Posted by tungtide on July 28, 2008, 10:11 am

In response to my End of A Cracker post, commenter Mary had this to say:

Remain objective? He’s launched his own emotionally charged, unprovoked mission against our beliefs, that he can’t stand, and now you try to laud him as a hero? He’s not the victim here, mister, we are. He couldn’t even do the dirty work himself; stealing consecrated hosts. He had to solicit other base persons to do it for him. Intellectuals? You and your kind have bypassed reason and gone directly to full blown hatred to insanity. Your hero is a coward. You’re not atheists, either. You’re anti-theists, and militants at that. Besides, you have a misspelling/typo.

Mary’s right on one point, I did have a typo. I has since been corrected.

I’ll begin by saying that Myers is not my hero and I did not set out to paint him as one. In an older post I said that his actions were in poor taste but did serve to illustrate a point. The message behind that has quickly been lost as the situation surrounding the involved parties had degenerated.

Mary, as you should likely know by now this whole kerfluffle started with Webster Cook taking the Eucharist from mass and bringing it home rather than eating it. I have, at one time in my life, been Catholic and I understand the rituals behind Communion and the importance of the sacrament to those who believe. (As an aside, the communion wafer tastes like those biodegradable rice packing peanuts). Groups of bloggers on both sides of the issue sprung up in protest against the way Webster was being treated. He’s returned the wafer, unharmed, and yet still faces expulsion from his university over what should be a non issue. He didn’t take the wafer in malice or even in jest, and was willing to make amends.

PZ had a more exuberant response and decided to desecrate a bledded communion wafer. As I said, I felt that this was in poor taste (especially the way it was originally described) but the point remains that a communion wafer is simply a small piece of a bread-like substance. It has no mystical, magical, or trans-substantive (that might be a made-up word) powers. Even after being blessed it remains exactly what it was beforehand.

I disklike being called an intellictual mainly because I don’t consider myself one. I have not, however, given up on reason, nor have I done anything close to what you consider “full blown hatred.” Please, point out where I have done anything of the sort. I have not made death threats against anyone. I have not tried to tamper with the future of two students. I have not tried to get anyone fired from their positions. What I have done is explain my thoughts and opinions on the series of events surrounding Webster and PZ and provided appropriate links to back up my assertions.

I am many things on top of being an atheist. An anti-theist is not one of them, and certainly not militant. I’m not all that big on firing guns. What I am looking to do is point out where irrational beliefs of the religious infringe on the rights of others in society. You are welcome to believe that a priest can bless a communion wafer and chalice of wine, turning them literally into the body and blood of your savior. What you are not allowed to do is use that belief to control others, especially those outside your faith. The Eucharist may be important to you but in the end it really is just a cracker. Actions taken against it are irrelevant.

I am willing to continue discussing this issue, but I’ll ask you to refrain from making unbased assertions about who I am. I will attempt to do the same.

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By Association

Posted by tungtide on July 26, 2008, 9:24 pm

Update: With a little additional research I found that Benjamin may have been present in the church with Webster when the eucharist was originally taken. I haven’t been able to confirm that. It would explain why he’s being targeted but provides no justification for the actions taken against him.

I really, really, really wanted to be done posting about Eucharist-related topics. I think it’s been done to death. This, however, had made me more angry than anything else associated with the series of events.

I know Catholics like to lay the guilt on heavily (I know, I used to be one) but Benjamin Collard is finding his academic future in jeopardy (not College Jeopardy!) because of his friendship with Webster Cook. Webster is the one responsible for the whole “stealing” incident in Florida that began the series of events. Benjamin is a friend and had nothing to do with the Eicharist in any way.

“I never spoke to a university official, I never lied about who I was,” Collard added. “I never engaged in any disruptive conduct.  I just think this is absolutely disgusting that they’re going after me.”


“Just being associated with this can affect my future,” Collard said. “I had nothing to do with this.”

He’s been locked out of his student account and faces potential expulsion from the university. The theft of the Eucharist should have been a non-event in the first place. A small number of individuals have blow it out of proportion and decided to launch an assult against the student responsible and a friend who is not responsible. Webster returned the Eucharist long ago and never intended to do anything Myers-like with it in the first place. Why can’t this just be over?

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I Can See For Miles

Posted by tungtide on July 24, 2008, 9:39 pm

Microsoft has gotten a bad rap surrounding the Vista operating system, some of it deserved and some of it unduly heaped on for the sake of badmouthing Microsoft. It would appear that much of the opinion is hearsay and word-of-mouth when it comes to “everyday” users. (via Stupid Evil Bastard) Microsoft used an operating system codnamed Mojave to a group of Windows XP users:

The subjects were put on video, asked about their Vista impressions, and then shown a “new” operating system, code-named Mojave. More than 90 percent gave positive feedback on what they saw. Then they were told that “Mojave” was actually Windows Vista.

“Oh wow,” said one user, eliciting exactly the exclamation that Microsoft had hoped to garner when it first released the operating system more than 18 months ago. Instead, the operating system got mixed reviews and criticisms for its lack of compatibility and other headaches.

Now, I have two computers that I use on a daily basis. My laptop runs XP and my desktop runs Vista. This puts me in the (somewhat) unique position of being a person who is currently using both operating systems. I installed XP on one of my old computers within a month of its release (to escape from the horrors of Windows ME) and installed Vista within about a month of its release while rebuilding my desktop to its current form.

When XP was first released it was clearly an upgrade to the OS that took it in directions that Windows had failed to tread before. It was a task that Microsoft wasn’t quite prepared for, either. XP was incompatible with almost everything upon its release and it took months, sometimes years (such as the case with my HP scanner) to obtain compatible drivers for some devices. However, XP was able to grow and evolve into the most stable and usable version of Windows that I had ever used. Currently, it’s compatible with just about everything, and therein lies the problem.

With previous releases of updated Windows OSs we were able to look forward to major fixes, new and exciting bugs, and the chance to see shiny blue screens of death with only a double click in the wrong place. XP is a stable, functional, compatible, and comfortable operating system. Yes, it has its flaws, but for all it’s shiny new transparent windows Vista had nothing to offer that XP couldn’t already do. At its release, Vista was the poorer choice since it required a more expensive and powerful computer to run and had compatibility issues with older programs. The device compatibility issues were (from my perspective, at least) significantly improved over what was seen when XP was released.

Which is the superior operating system? Depends upon what you’re trying to do. XP will run just about anything, which is why it’s still installed on my laptop. I use that computer in my lab and it needs to be able to run software for older programs and be able to interact with data from outdated (but still functional) systems.

I upgraded my Office XP software on my laptop to become compatible with the Vista version of Office (unless saved in a “compatibility” format, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and all other Office documents now use a new extention such as “.docx” for word over the old “.doc”) and found that my reference managing software was no longer compatible with the semi-Vista Office. This is the major reason that people don’t like Vista, it requires the end user to upgrade, fix, or purchase software just to be able to do what we could already do in the first place.

Vista is also a resource hog. The sidebar is full of fun widgets and toys, but eats up RAM like Cookie Monster raids Girl Scout wherehouses (okay, terrible simile). With only iTunes, Word, and Firefox running I’m using more than 50% of my RAM right now, but the two processors are sitting at about 2%.

Is Vista bad? No. It’s just not enough of an improvement for the associated hassle.

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The End of A Cracker

Posted by tungtide on July 24, 2008, 1:15 pm

It’s over and done with. I hadn’t initially planned to post again about the whole PZ Myers and the Eucharist issue, but he made a couple of important points in the process. He has indeed “defiled” a blessed communion wafer, as well as the Koran, and a copy of The God Delusion.

What caught my attention was that he’s been able to remain objective on the issue despite death threats, threats against his family, calls for his job, and a general attempt to defame him.

By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanities’ knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.

I couldn’t have said it better if I tried.

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Free Speech Zones

Posted by tungtide on July 23, 2008, 2:06 pm

I have heard of the “free speech zone” tacics being used mainly in conjunction with events surrounding Still President Bush.  The idea is that opposing opinions/viewpoints will be pushed aside into designated areas. Those areas are usually away from any motorcade routes and out of view of the venue itself. Media coverage, then, is forced to leave the main event itself in order to cover dissent. John Whitehead at Huffington Post covers the topic with this background:

For example, President Bush’s Presidential Advance Manual outlines the specific strategies his administration has used to “minimize the demonstrator’s effect.” It includes such Orwellian tactics as selling tickets exclusively to presidential supporters and creating “rally squads” of supporters who will surround and drown out protesters with pro-Bush chants. The manual also discusses the strategy of asking local law enforcement to create a designated protest zone, “preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route.”

This is both incredibly smart and stupid from a political and legal perspective. These tactics do succeed at limiting the interaction of the Persident with those who disagree with him. It also hurts hinders his ability to remain in touch with the common… … … okay, I can’t finish that sentence with a straight face, even behind a keyboard. Since when did this President care about what anyone else thinks?

Also from John Whitehead:

Free speech zones have been employed by both Democrats and Republicans at past political conventions. This year, however, Democrats face the embarrassing possibility that they will be the only party actually caging dissenters. Protesters at the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver in late August will be corralled into caged “free speech zones” made of chicken wire and chain link fences which are located more than two football fields from the delegates’ entrance. Those who attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights outside this makeshift cage, which is partially obscured by trees and sculptures, will be arrested. (Ironically, protesters at this year’s Republican National Convention will not face a cage or even policemen in riot gear.)

This flies in the face of, well, being an American. Arrested! For speaking out against the views of others. These are not examples of people inciting violence or even promoting “hate speech,” but citizens that are using their Constitutionally-given rights in a peaceful manner. Someone is saying something you don’t like? Too bad. Suck it up and grow up. The answer is never to sweep the issue under the rug, let alone attempt to lock it away.

Protesters are only perceived as dangerous because their message challenges the status quo. It’s the message that is feared.

Both democrats and republicans alike should condemn this kind of behavior, as should their presumptive Presidental candidates.

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Separation Anxiety

Posted by tungtide on July 22, 2008, 2:55 pm

The story of Matthew LaClair is one of disappointment, courage, hope, and despair. Details can be found here (Via Friendly Atheist). In summary, Matthew had an 11th grade history teacher using the classroom as a pulpit for his religious views. Matthew disagreed with the use of a public school classroom for this purpose. He recorded a number of lectures and brought the issue to the attention of the administration. Despite having the law and recordings of the events on his side, there has been a rift in the community. He’s lost friends, and received a death threat.

It’s been two years now, and the town is still divided on the subject. The teacher, Mr. Paszkiewicz is still teaching at the high school (and also runs a local church youth group). On the whole, the town seems to have sided with the teacher’s blatant disregard for the law. An article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazatte News follows up on Matthew’s story (via this post on Atheist Revolution). It appears that no one has really learned a lesson:

“I could have sued, but that wouldn’t have helped,” said Mr. LaClair, who wants to write a book about his experience.

“If I won the case, I’d only get money. There would be no satisfaction because, even to this day, they (school officials) just don’t understand why I made an issue of what happened in those classes.”

Matthew displays a stunning level of maturity in the face of some small-minded individuals.

“I don’t have any problem with what he believes in,” said Mr. LaClair, who spoke yesterday afternoon at the annual summer outing of the Greater Worcester Humanists group. “But I do have a problem about him talking about his religion in a public high school and trying to convert his students.”

I would been unable to do anything along the lines of Matthew when I was his age (ignoring for the moment that I was Christian at that time).

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Atheist Blogroll

Posted by tungtide on July 21, 2008, 3:50 pm

I’ve joined up with MoJoey’s Atheist Blogroll as a way to better interact with the community and as a way to increase traffic to my site. (It would probably help if I were updating more frequently).

The link to the blogroll is over on the left-hand sidebar (as of the time this post was written). There’s a scrolling list of members that can display below the image, but I can’t get the php code to work correctly. I’ll keep at it over the next couple days.

New (real) posts coming shortly.

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Better Safe Than…

Posted by tungtide on July 15, 2008, 9:07 am

It would appear that “sorry” doesn’t come into play in this case. (found via Simple Justice via Disgusted Beyond Belief). A police officer mistakenly identified a crop of kenaf plants as marijuana , a simple mistake seeing as how the two plants look similar. The big difference is that kenaf does not contain THC and when tested in the field the police did not detect THC either.

At this point any reasonable person might pause and think, “These might not be the plants I am looking for” (and probably not the droids either). The field test can read false negatives on freshly-cut plants. Again, the reasonable course of action would be to take a sample and retest on a dried piece. Nope.

The police seized the plants and destroyed them without conducting follow-up tests. The owner of the plants (who had grown them for local deer to feed on) sued for $225,000 to cover damages and losses. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the police.

So, the police can incorrectly identify a plant, take it, destroy it, and not have to pay for their mistake? Something here is very wrong.

As an addition I’ll also link to DBB’s entry on why you should never talk to the police. It’s got a couple videos from a law school class (each about 25 minutes but worth watching) and a longer video that I haven’t watched.

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