Saturday, November 29, 2014

My White Thanksgiving (Not in Ferguson)

From billysticks, dogs, and fire hoses,
To rubber bullets, tear gas, and tanks,
The march for racial justice continues,
As we sit down to a meal and give thanks.
On Black Friday, we rush to WalMart,
To buy something - perhaps a new TV.
On Cyber Monday, we visit Amazon.
And then we update our CV.
We have intelligent conservations,
About autopsies, eyewitnesses, and such,
But Travon, Amadou, Michael, and Tamir,
They just don't come up that much.
Riots do get our attention,
And traffic jams irk us to no end.
But another dead black guy?
Let's wait for the evidence to come in...


Twitter: On the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Emma Pierson did an interesting analysis (FAQ) of Twitter reactions to the Ferguson grand jury announcement and found "that there was a 'red group' and a 'blue group' who rarely talked to each other, thought very different things, came from very different backgrounds, and often were uncivil even when they did talk."

To help illustrate what both "sides" are talking about, I removed the word "Ferguson" from Pierson's list of most common retweets and generated a tag cloud for each group.

The "Red Group"
The "Blue Group"

Pierson notes: "The red group talks about mob justice and race baiting; the blue group talks about breaking the system. The red group blames Obama for exacerbating tensions and forcing the Missouri governor into declaring a state of emergency; the blue group says the state of emergency must not be used to violate human rights."

Seems consistent with recent polling data that shows a continued racial divide in our views of justice. Even Rand Paul gets it. But unfortunately this larger context is too often missing from our discussion. On Facebook my white friends are the ones talking about it, and they are talking about the autopsies, the conflicting eyewitness testimonies, the robbery, the riots, the new police weaponry, and everything else except the elephant that is still in the room.

After the Grand Jury decision was announced, Cory Booker posted a link to a piece he wrote for the Stanford Daily shortly after the Rodney King verdict - and this MLK quote:

And here's some whitesplaining from Sally Kohn - for the red, white, and blue groups:
"Black communities are ultimately protesting systems of injustice and inequality that structurally help white people while systematically harming black people. Just because you’re white and therefore generally benefit from those systems doesn’t mean you inherently support those systems — or need to defend them. Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice.' 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Incredible Hulk (and other lessons from Ferguson)

"I felt like I was a five-year old holding onto Hulk looks like a a cloud of dust... grunting." - Darren Wilson's grand jury testimony 
Are we really that oblivious? Lacking in empathy? Or was justice served in this case? Opinions abound, but who knows the true facts? Will Wheaton?

Call me a dreamer, but in the midst of all the bad news I think nonviolence is working. And I am encouraged by the new meme for the ongoing movement for racial justice in this country: "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." That phrase, and police tanks and tear gas, are likely how we will remember Ferguson. But we should also never forget the "incredible hulk" - or that kids in Ferguson need superheroes too.

"I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward." - Albert Camus

Monday, November 24, 2014

Could you get to a grocery store with a "Biblical world view"?

According to Focus on the Family, "worldview is the latest buzzword in Christian circles." And a "Biblical worldview" means that you "believe the Bible is entirely true [and] allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do" (emphasis added). So it's not that surprising (if it really is true) that "only 4 percent of Americans had a 'biblical' worldview." Otherwise, how would they get to the grocery store? Moreover, would grocery stores even exist?

If you really believe that you have a "Biblical worldview" then please explain in the comments (using chapter and verse) how grocery stores exists, how you find them, and how you get there. I'll wait for you to finish...

For everyone else, here are a few questions to consider as you reflect on your own world view.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Moral Abomination of Football

Last updated: January 19, 2016.

While I am in general agreement with Christopher Chabris's assessment of Malcolm Gladwell, I think Gladwell is absolutely right about one thing - football is a moral abomination. Not only does it glorify pain, violence, hostility, destruction, and a "take no hostages," "win at any cost" mentality, but it also conveys to impressionable young people that authority and tradition are supremely important virtues. And to make matters even worse, it is all too often entangled with pious, "holier than thou" religious views that reinforce some of those same morally dubious values.

As the New York Times noted in September, the NFL has now "stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at 'notably younger ages' than in the general population." Even high school football players risk brain injury and death. What competent local school board, superintendent, or principal would even consider allowing such an activity at their school? Why do we allow this one to continue? Why are we surprised by stories like this?

I'll just leave you with some "Friday Night Football" slogans to ponder. Do we really want to teach our children these values?
  • Play each down like it's your last
  • football, little effort means broken bones and blood.
  • It doesn't matter who starts, but who can finish the game
  • Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing
  • We are ... Mobile, Agile, and Hostile
  • Show no mercy. Make no excuses.
  • We don't rebuild. We reload.
  • Second place means First Loser!
  • If football is your religion, prepare to meet your maker
  • If you can't take a hit, stay off the field
  • If you can't take the pain, then stay off the field
  • It's not a contact sport, it's a collision sport
  • It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.
  • No distractions, just destruction
  • No limits
  • No pain, no gain
  • Our blood, our sweat, your tears
  • Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.
  • Shut up and hit someone
  • the goal is to have more blood drop off your body than sweat does off of mine
  • What we do in life, echoes in eternity!
  • Whatever it takes
  • Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing
  • You gotta believe

After an exciting Monday Night Football finish, players from both teams came to the middle of the field for a postgame prayer.
Posted by NFL on ESPN on Monday, November 2, 2015

A photographer captured this moment yesterday following the Panthers/Seahawks game-- the players were united in prayer. The story behind the photo:
Posted by NBC Charlotte on Monday, January 18, 2016

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Religion Does Well

Religion knows what people need and they deliver in a big way! It understands the human desires for belonging, identity, sense of community, friendship, camaraderie, and even romance. I have fond memories of church picnics, where I met my best friends for pickup basketball games, and afterward stuff ourselves with wonderful culinary delights from the buffet table. I was a member of the church softball team, where I always received encouragement every time I came up to bat. In church we sang songs and listened to inspiring lectures that tapped into our desire to be good, moral people. The camaraderie this instilled among the congregation was very satisfying and built a strong sense of belonging. I often left the church parking lot with an emotional high and a desire to become a better member of my blissful society. Yes, religion knows well how to satisfy our deepest, social needs, but there is a shadowy, darker side undermining all the glee.

If a positive, supportive, social atmosphere is the drug then adhering to damaging dogma is the payment. To keep the friends, sense of belonging and emotional highs coming, one must outwardly adhere to a dubious set of beliefs and rules without question. The tools religions use to enforce their dogma, thus their power over people, is fear in the form of social rejection, guilt, shame, and threats of eternal punishment. A common thread among most religions is the existence of a formal removal mechanism from the community for anybody not adhering to prescribed dogma. Catholics call this excommunication, Amish and Mennonites call it shunning, Jehovah’s Witnesses call it disfellowship, and Scientology calls it disconnection. In Islam it is often a reason to kill the offender. In any case, someone in non-compliance with dogma risks losing their entire social network, and often family, leaving a gigantic emotional and identity void. Luckily, there are options to fill these important, individual social needs without dogma and accompanying fear.

It is quite possible to experience all the same happy emotions and comforting feelings of belonging, community, charity, friendship, camaraderie and intimacy without religion and with genuine satisfaction. Religion does not have ownership of these human qualities, humanity does. Christopher Hitchens issued his famous challenge to theists: “Name one moral act that a religious person can do that an atheist cannot.” I feel comfortable extrapolating this concept to include meeting social needs. There are safe places to land the wounded psyche and regain a lost sense of community and belonging when leaving religion, but it does take courage, effort, and time.

There are many local secular groups that offer the opportunity to participate in all the same activities you enjoyed at religious gatherings. Singing, music and inspiring lectures can be found at Sunday Assemblies for those who desire an upbeat experience. Humanist gatherings can provide opportunities to organize and volunteer for charitable events without the underlying goal of recruiting followers. Rational thinkers have meetings to discuss local and national issues without the filter of religious belief. If you enjoy getting to know people from every social and economic demographic with interesting jobs and backgrounds, try going to an atheist group’s social event. It’s important to know there are millions of people who don’t subscribe to religious dogma, but desire a strong sense of social connection and have created a whole world outside of religion to meet that need. 

WSOC-TV Fear Mongering Ebola on Facebook

Update: As of 10:00 am (9 Nov), WSOC-TV has quietly deleted their fear mongering Facebook post (can't wait for the conspiracy nuts to get a hold on this), but the incendiary photo remains on their website.

Ebola fear mongering is good for TV ratings, and there's no better way to spread fear than with a scary Facebook photo. So in case you're wondering, here's how a two-bit local news station in Charlotte gets 562 shares* on a Facebook post in just 10 hours (overnight):

The photo was accompanied by a link to this story.
OMG, it's coming to Charlotte! We're all going to die!

Thankfully they received a lot of crap about this in the comments.

And this....
  • "It won't be long now!"
  • "Ebola is in your flu shots."
  • "Could this be the end? Will ebola go everywhere and kill humankind or can it be animals too? Is this when god sent us to die?"
  • "WHY do they CONTINUE to ship these people all over the country???? If u DON'T believe in population control, from the govt, you'd better wake da hell up and open your eyes. ITS REAL!!!"
  • "Quit letting these people in the country , damn do they want it to spread here."
  • "Dont make no sense bringing that patient to Charlotte. What is really going on? Is this about money for the drug reps, population control, or putting Fear in the American people."
  • "oh no my husband is very very sick with 15percent lung function and I need to go home for thanksgiving the dr. already want him on a resperator it is not looking good for him lord please don't let that ebola get to my husband thanks !!!!"
  • "Send them to Nurse Freak in Maine"
WSOC: please add this Scientific American blog post to your reading list:
"Not to be too crass, but there’s always money to be made in fear mongering. I’m sure the click-thru rates go up for a story with a bold title about journalists, we need to take a step back and analyze the bigger picture...Something like Ebola takes the old adage 'If it bleeds, it leads' to a whole new level...As journalists, we need to do better than this. 
 - Theresa MacPhail
And maybe follow the Charlotte Observer's lead next time...

* Comparing WSOC's post numbers to posts by WCNC and WBTV.

Page Likes Post Shares Hours Live Shares Per Hour
WCNC 202,941 16 3 5.3
WBTV 124,030 26 7 3.7
WSOC 171,948 562 10 56.2

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tickets now on sale for ReAsonCon 2015

ReAsonCon is a secular conference in Hickory, NC sponsored by the Hickory Humanist Alliance and Atheist Avengers. The first ReAsonCon was held earlier this year, and tickets (and tshirts!) are now on sale for #ReAsonCon2015 - which will be held on April 24th and 25th at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hickory.

Speakers for the 2015 conference will include author and activist David Fitzgerald, Skepchick Heina Dadabhoy, Phil Ferguson of SkepticMoney, Beth Presswood and Traci Harris of the Godless Bitches Podcast, and former pastor Ryan Bell.

All the cool kids will be there, so be sure to get your tickets before the prices goes up!

Win a Collection of Four Books by Victor Stenger

Victor Stenger was an accomplished physicist, an eminent skeptic, and a prolific writer. I have long been a fan, and I'm excited to see that Prometheus Books is running a contest to give away a collection of four of Vic's most popular books. Hemant Mehta has all the details here. The contest ends on Friday, Nov. 14 and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.

Welcome Kurt Wolery to the Skeptical Poets Society and Metrolina RfR

I'm pleased to announce that Kurt Wolery will be joining me as a blogger here at the Skeptical Poets Society and as a facilitator for the Metrolina Chapter of Recovering From Religion. Kurt has been a non-believer for the past 30 years and is also volunteering with Recovering From Religion's Hotline Project. He is a pilot and an Air Force veteran with recent combat experience in the Middle East  For more information about Kurt, check the About page.

Welcome aboard Kurt!
Kurt Wolery