Sunday, April 19, 2015

The most delicious phone (or, cat meets technology)



I know I haven't been posting much lately...work has been taking up most of my time these days. But for now here's a video of my cat Teddi trying to eat my phone, because why not. :)


Monday, April 6, 2015

The "Special Snowflake" Syndrome of American Conservatives

The "religious freedom" debacles in Indiana and Arkansas have illustrated a lot of important points lately. The big one, of course, is that we as a society are moving past the point where it is socially acceptable to harbor animus toward another human being because of their sexual orientation, and try to find refuge in the law for discriminatory impulses that arise from that animus.


But there's another important one that should not be overlooked. It's the religious far-right's "special snowflake" syndrome. That's really what the entire conversation is about: conservative Christians thinking that because they believe God sanctions their particular brand of bigotry, they're special snowflakes who shouldn't be retrained by human decency, much less the pesky laws that the rest of us are obliged to follow. If you hate hard enough, the rules don't apply to you.


Because you are a special snowflake, who really, really believes in what you're doing; your feelings about something make you so special that the law just ceases to apply to special little you.

And it's not like conservatives are going too far out on a limb in believing this. In some measure we've come to accept that belief should excuse you from following the law, even as it impacts others. With, for instance, Hobby Lobby, we see a shift toward the idea that your beliefs, even if factually wrong, simply exempt you from the law -- even when, in practice, that has an impact on other people. We've moved away from the sensible idea that a person shouldn't be held to laws that conflict with his beliefs where exemption won't have an impact on others, to a world where religion is a valid excuse to get out of such obviously necessary things as driver's licensing rules. So we've gone from "your career won't be ruined for using a prohibited substance in your religious ceremony" to "you don't have to provide health care coverage for medicine you don't like". Religion and religious belief has become the trump card: having a belief about something, in a sense, did make you a special snowflake, and you could get away with all sorts of things, regardless of the impact on other people, by virtue of how special you were.


All animals are equal, but animals who profess a strongly held belief are more equal.

Or so conservatives, and their overly broad interpretations of religious freedom, seem to have convinced themselves. And then along comes the Indiana skirmish, and all of a sudden this isn't a given any more. Along the lines of "your right to swing your fist ends where the other fellow's nose begins," people, it seems, are not willing to make the same allowance for belief when it impacts people beyond the believer as they are when it concerns just the believer. In other words, people still haven't lost sight of the only sensible view of religious liberty there is: we should all be free to live according to our consciences, up until the moment that those consciences drive us to impose our beliefs on another person. In a world full of competing, often contradictory ideas, this is the only view of religious liberty that is feasible, or could possibly be evenly applied.

And it's a far cry from the special snowflake syndrome conservatives seem to be suffering from...because, at the end of the day, none of us are or should be special snowflakes in the eyes of the law, and none of us should have a trump card to use at the expense of our neighbors.


(Image info: "Unique, snow flake" by Pen Waggener - Flickr: Unique. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Since when did we decide that American discrimination doesn't matter as long as someone else is worse?


I must have missed the memo, but since when did we decide that our discrimination doesn't matter as long as someone else, somewhere else, is worse?


It seems like the right has adopted this as a go-to defense of their bigotry: stop whining about American Christians who want to be able to oppress gay people -- at least we're not asking to kill them, like they do in some countries!


It's a takeaway from Senator Tom Cotton's suggestion on CNN the other day that Americans upset by the potential for legalized discrimination really needed to "have a sense of perspective. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay."


And it's certainly the implication to posts like the following, from former Congressman Allen West.
I find it ironic that we are so tolerant of a religion that kills Christians, gays and lesbians, yet we are punishing businesses in America for their Christian religious beliefs. It seems this Easter weekend we are reminded that Christian persecution has risen to a disturbing level.
The above text accompanied this image:



Not only, you see, are Christians being "persecuted" by not being allowed to discriminate against LGBT people, West is complaining that we're tolerant of a religion that kills gay people. Presumably, the religion in question is Islam -- not only because it's a safe bet that, at any given time, Allen West is no more than half a sentence away from an Islam-slam, but because it would be far too much to expect the sort of honesty that would acknowledge the existence of murderous, homophobic strains of the Christian faith.

The message, then, is that you've no business criticizing Christian bigots, because at least they're not trying to murder gay people like some Muslim bigots do. (Except, of course, when they are; but once you're down the conservative rabbit hole, you realize that while "bad Muslims" define the faith, "bad Christians" just don't count.) In short, be grateful, gay people: American Christian conservatives are contenting themselves to isolate and discriminate against you, when they could be trying to kill you!

Of course, not all versions have to do with Muslims.

If Islam is Allen West's kryptonite, abortion is right-wing writer Matt Walsh's. So, obviously, he tells us in an over-the-top rage-fest on The Blaze, anti-discrimination efforts are, like, totally pointless -- because abortion!
Don’t be silly, the national outrage has nothing to do with dead babies, instead it’s all targeted at Indiana. No, not because anyone’s life is in jeopardy, but because a few homosexuals might be inconvenienced when attempting to purchase consumer goods.
In Walsh's mind, it's crazy that people could simultaneously think women should have reproductive rights and LGBT people shouldn't face discrimination.


Now, are there worse things that anti-gay discrimination? Of course (although a woman's right to choose is certainly not one of them...). Back in the day, there were worse things that segregated drinking fountains, or racial miscegenation laws. But we recognize that "something worse exists" isn't a valid reason to legalize the somewhat-less-bad action. It doesn't absolve a thief of his crime because he didn't also commit murder like someone else might have: he's still guilty of theft. It doesn't absolve a bigot of bigotry just because his particular brand of bigotry doesn't lean toward murder.


Yes, there are worse things than treating gay people like second class human beings, and there are more violently-inclined bigots than your average right-wing Christian bigot. But so what? There are worse things than having your wallet stolen -- both legal and illegal. But just because some financial schemes are essentially legalized theft, and some criminals resort to worse crimes than theft, I'd still be pretty upset if someone stole my wallet. And, if it was legal to steal wallets, I'd work to make it illegal.


So, no, conservatives, you don't get a free pass to discriminate just because there are worse bigots than you. No, it's not okay that you want to deprive people of anti-discrimination protections because you also want to target other people and their rights. You're not moral just because someone else somewhere else is even more immoral than you.

And, frankly, you do yourself no favors by lying on top of aggressively pursuing special protections for your bigotry. I don't think anyone outside conservative circles thinks it reflects well on you that your stance on LGBT rights isn't as bad as that of ISIS' or the Ayatollahs'. And I doubt the comparison sits that well with a lot of your base, either.

Friday, March 20, 2015

For the right-wing, even #RaceTogether is a good excuse to bash them damned kids

Commentators on the left had plenty to say about Starbucks' #RaceTogether plan to address the complex issues of racism with your cup of coffee. Even Starbucks' baristas weighed in on what a misplaced idea it was. There have been plenty of good points raised, and some bad ones too. Particularly when we start to look at the right-wing reactions -- that's when things get really interesting.

I've written before about the GOP's successful tactic of dehumanizing and degrading the working poor. If you listen to conservative commentators for any length of time, the pattern is pretty hard to miss. Certain groups -- minorities, the LGBT community, non-submissive women, non-religious people, liberals, etc. -- are cast not just as being on the other side of an ideological divide on an issue, but as lazy, worthless, and useless. If you're not white, Christian, upper middle class or wealthy conservatives, you're one of the enemies, fools, criminals, and/or monsters. There is language specifically reserved for these "others": Thug. Baby-killer. Slut. Un-American. Moocher. Taker. Welfare queen. God-hater.

Young people are just one of these sets of people that conservatives seem to hate. And not coincidentally, conservative policy is either agnostic to, or downright hostile toward, young people. Republican apathy to student loan debt, attacks on higher education and healthcare access, silence on or opposition to minimum wage, etc., are good indicators that the problems facing millennials at best aren't on the radar of the Republican Party. Often, though, they're the direct result of conservative policy and action.

So how do you convince your base of middle-aged and older voters to support you as you destroy their children and grand-children's prospects? By convincing them that young people are narcissistic, ignorant, clueless, selfish, entitled and lazy. Hell, they even party wrong!

Sound familiar? It's the playbook they've been working from for quite awhile now. Which brings me back to Starbucks and #RaceTogether. On a topic where almost everyone, except the upper echelons of Starbucks' management, can agree that it's a bad idea, or at least poorly implemented, how could this possibly end up an opportunity to bash young people, you ask?

Well, I encourage you to turn to the dark underbelly of conservative social media. Like that intellectual cesspool Right Wing News, which shared this image earlier today:




Arrogant.
No real-world experience.
Condescending.
Sneer.
Lecture.

And if these descriptors weren't enough to make you hate the hapless purveyor of your morning coffee, keep in mind that this arrogant judgey liberal kid wants to "treat you like an ignorant hillbilly" -- as well as imply that you have pedestrian tastes in coffee! What's a Real American© Conservative (but I repeat myself -- is there any other kind?!) to do?

For many of RWN's commenters, the solution was simple: reveal to the world just how ignorant, racist and plain old crazy they actually are. And they managed that all on their own, with zero input from any "arrogant 20-something".

Like Jason, who decided to share this gem:


Or these people, who are truly concerned about racial victimization in this country...of white people, of course.




Then there's the Real Americans © who are worried about the real problem in this country: liberals. These patriots know what's wrong in this world. Michael, for instance, points out just how elitist baristas are; like Donna, he has a solution: don't drink Starbucks coffee. Sean, though, has a dream.

Vincent is just tired of it all. It must be overwhelming, after a while, to put up with people having different ideas than you.


Brandon, meanwhile, has a message for the "libtard" behind the counter. And David is worried about the spiritual implications of purchasing from Starbucks.


Worried enough to comment more than once, in fact.


That's a good point, really. Supporting Starbucks is basically saying this:




To Satan, you godless sickos.

But lest we lose sight of the more tangible aspects of this travesty, Bob is there to bring us back around to the main point: young people are ignorant know-it-alls, who are just waiting to get in the face of a Real American ©. Oh, and, let's bash low-wage workers for good measure. Because, why not, amirite?


Now, it's worth noting that businesses that actually fight for legal sanction to discriminate against their customers are heroes to these same hateriots. But when a business puts forth a widely criticized (but well-intentioned) policy to get people to think about racism, all of a sudden businesses have no reason to take a moral stance on issues. Indeed, it's outrageous that they'd even contemplate it!

What's more interesting to me is that they feel they are, personally, under attack because people want to end racism...and promptly drop a boat load of racist language to protest the perceived attack. That's pretty telling.

But the way it's framed as an attack by ignorant, judgey young know-it-alls against Real Americans © is also telling. This wasn't a move put in place by the working "20-somethings"; it was put into action by corporate business men. And, still, conservatives manage to make it about them damned arrogant kids.
It's not like youth-bashing is a new thing. Curmudgeons have been complaining about the latest generation pretty much since forever. Conservatives have figured out how to seize onto that generational resentment, and turn it into a major part of their political movement. They've managed to convince some people to hate their children and grand-children's generations, to see young people as lazy, entitled, ignorant and contemptuous. So contemptuous, apparently, that they're lingering in coffee shops and sneering at their elders' coffee choices. And, now, just waiting to accost those elders, and chew them out over race relations. It's a tough life for Real Americans©, courtesy of them damned whippersnappers. 

Men in suits (typically, the heroes of any conservative narrative) coming up with a bad idea really doesn't fit the conservative world view in the same way that arrogant-kids-judging-real-Americans does. And if you're going to convince Republican parents to support a party that wants to subject their kids to a future where education is out of reach, employers pay as little as they want, healthcare is only available to the wealthy, jobs keep going overseas, environmental protections are gone, nature is a privilege reserved for those who can afford it as we sell off our public lands, etc., etc., etc. ... well, you're going to have to convince them to hate the future generations of humanity. Them, and all their coffee-snobbery.

Jon Stewart reveals Fox News' utter hypocrisy with comparison of Ferguson report to Benghazi report

When the GOP-led Benghazi investigation debunked all the Fox Obama conspiracies (that I'm still hearing from conservatives -- thanks for that, btw, Fox), it didn't merit a peep. When the DOJ finds that Michael Brown didn't have his hands up when he was shot, but the Ferguson PD is thoroughly corrupt, racist and abusive -- like Ferguson residents were saying all along -- damn it, protestors better apologize! (And let's just ignore that their concerns were  validated, regardless of the specific incident).


You can spend thousands of written words on something like this, but sometimes the video really speaks for itself. These people are the most amazing hypocrites.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A fiendish and feathery turf war (fowl language warning)

So the quality isn't that great. Regarding the video, it was shot on my phone. As for the puns, well, I make no apology...there just aren't many geese jokes that'll quack you up, but there's a few that I think are just ducky.

Alright, alright, I'll stop. Anyway...I caught this on a walk the other day...the annual showdown has begun a little early this year. The one goose was particularly vocal, and was screaming long before I got the camera.




Monday, March 9, 2015

Forgiveness and redemption from the perspective of an atheist

Forgiveness and redemption are core elements of many religious teachings, the idea that God can clear the slate and we can start anew, at least in the eyes of the divine. But without a god figure, this sort of blank slate isn't really possible.

And yet, forgiveness and even redemption are. No, not supernatural redemption, or forgiveness granted by a divine being. But, stripped of the supernatural elements, the concepts are not only valid but sometimes necessary.

If you were one of those atheists raised outside of religion, this might not make sense. But if you're a former fundamentalist, you probably already know what I'm talking about. Because me? I was raised a religious bigot. My faith taught me to hate pretty much everyone who wasn't like my family and church communities: straight, far right, and hardcore Christian. It wasn't called hate, of course; but that's what it was. Transgender people were abominations. Gay people were pedophiles. Muslims were terrorists -- or were not true Muslims. Women who had premarital sex were sluts. Abortion doctors were murderers. Women who had abortions were too, and deserved to be tried for murder. (In case you are curious, the penalty for murder -- and everything else -- should, in a truly Christian nation, come from the Bible...in the case of murder, the penalty would be death). Depending on the church, racism often lingered just below the surface...and every once in awhile, in plain sight. With the exception of some Buddhists, my dad hated pretty much every one who wasn't Christian; and not just Christian, but conservative Christian. Liberal Christians pissed him off worse than anything. We attended various churches (some very, very culty) as I was growing up, but, in the end, they were all too soft. Because no one knew the mind of God quite as well as my father. So we spent our Sunday's watching a televised dominionist preacher in the morning, and then reading the Bible.

I wish I could say that I saw through the nonsense, but I didn't. I was homeschooled, and taught that the father was the head of the household, appointed by God. To question him was to question God (and, like the God we read about every Sunday, my father was not above emphasizing his authority through brutality). There were things that, even as a child in that situation, didn't make sense; but I questioned within the established parameters only, ever. Doubt was not an option; better understanding was the only object of questions, and sometimes "God has his reasons" was the answer you'd have to content yourself with.

So, after my father's death, when we started attending a local Southern Baptist church for continued spiritual guidance, I didn't bat an eyelash when I heard church leaders say that Islam was a religion created by the Devil. Well, of course! my bigoted brain kicked in. I didn't think twice when I read Christian apologists explain how Christianity was a great religion, and the bad things it did were perversions of True Christianity; but when Islam taught the same sorts of things, that was evidence that it was inherently evil. I accepted and regurgitated such nonsense, because I believed it was true. (As an interesting aside...reading the Quran in full actually was pretty significant to my journey to atheism, because, having been so inundated in the Bible as I had been, it was hard to maintain the nonsensical position that Islam was demonstrably or significantly worse than Christianity...this is also part of the reason why, today, I can't stand to hear atheists saying pretty much the same things that I was taught as a Christian -- "Oh, well, Christianity's bad, of course, but Islam is sooooo much worse...". Aside from the fact that it's not true, it's a cultural bias that allows us excuse the crazy/malicious/evil things our ancestors did, while getting on a high horse about the crazy/malicious/evil things other people do...and all it does is marginalize people and promote bigotry. But I digress).

And no matter how much I wish I had never believed the crazy things I did, I was raised to be a fearful, bigoted zealot...and I was. Then I grew up, and -- with my mom's support -- got an education, at a public university.

Having grown up hearing all the conservative talking points that I had, I fully expected an all-out assault on my values and beliefs. It took me awhile to get used to the fact that it wasn't happening. 

Meanwhile, for the first time, I had real, unfettered access to information. Again, it wasn't an immediate transformation...it probably took longer than it should have...but, like dominoes, once I started really examining my beliefs on one point, the others followed. The process was nowhere near done when I left school (and, for that matter, I don't plan to ever call it quits). But the dominoes had started to fall.

So do I believe in redemption? Of course. Not from sin, or evil spirits, but from ignorance and the callous bigotry that can arise from it; from the trap of closed-minded absolutism; from any scenario that shapes or ensnares us in a fashion contrary to our better natures and humanity.

Forgiveness is more difficult to define, in a sense, because there are aspects that are both external and internal. Then there's the intersection of memory, and how memory ensures that the lessons learned stay learned. It's not enough to "forgive yourself"; and not enough to seek forgiveness from those you've wronged. When I recall things I believed, and the  things I said and did -- not out of malice or a desire to do evil, but in genuine accordance with those beliefs -- I am still ashamed. Where possible, I have sought external forgiveness; and I know that I was not responsible for believing what I was taught from the earliest days of my life as absolute truth. I know that I made the choice to reexamine things I believed when I saw that they conflicted with reality -- a choice I could have ignored, when doing so would have been so much more comforting. I know that I subjected myself to a great deal of internal conflict and discomfort, because I truly wanted to find the truth, and do the right thing; when I could have chosen instead to be comfortable in ignorance. I realize that the process of reforming your worldview is complex and can be lengthy; I recognize that I stumbled on that journey more than once (and will probably do so again as it continues). I have made peace with the past, but I do not forget -- nor do I want to forget -- it. That includes the realization (and attendant feelings) that I was a part of something that I now recognize promotes a great deal of harm (conservative religion), and that the views I once held were, bluntly put, ignorant and harmful. Self-forgiveness, I think, is moving on, lessons learned.


So I don't think the concepts of redemption and forgiveness are limited to religion. I don't think everyone needs them, because I don't think humans are born broken. That's a religious concept, for which I've found no evidence. But where we err, certainly, they are applicable. When we are raised to be broken, to judge and hate and further harmful ideologies, redemption and forgiveness can be found. Not as a boon from the divine being who broke you in the first place, but as something to be found within ourselves and our fellow beings.

And our capacity to recognize our failings, to correct them -- and to want to correct them -- is, I think, more real and beautiful than anything supernatural ever could be.