Friday, November 25, 2016

Announcing my new publication: Kühner-Kommentar on Amerika

Quick update since I haven't posted here in a while...

After writing a few pieces for Dan Arel's Modern Left publication, Dan decided to discontinue his Medium publication. As a result, I have created my own: Kühner-Kommentar on Amerika. I will be using a pen name (or German translation of my real and original family name) for that publication.

Hope you enjoy it, and please follow us on Facebook and Twitter or consider becoming a patron to support this exciting new online publication of frank, independent, and courageous analysis with a deep aversion to sham and pretense wherever it appears. I will continue to post some new content here (and all the legacy content on this blog will remain here), but most of my new (topical) content will be published in this new publication (or in some special cases, to the associated Patreon account for my patrons) only.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

For my white friends outraged or embarrassed by the riots in Charlotte: Do something...

Martin Luther King Jr. Public Domain.
In times like this it becomes clear who is "more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity." Regardless of the facts in this particular case, it is time for white Americans to recognize that we have a serious problem that requires empathy, knowledge, and constructive actions - not implicit bias and selective outrage. More transparency would be a good place to start: North Carolina should repeal HB 972

Your outrage, just like the violent "language of the unheard," is not helpful. Contact your state and federal legislators. Vote. Get more engaged in your local community. Do something...
"I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way. But at the same time, it is necessary for me to be vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the [African American] poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

ACLU Action Alert: Ask Charlotte Mayor Roberts and Police Chief Putney to release footage of Keith Lamont Scott’s killing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Nobody is attempting to "define permissible categories of religious speech" in Rowan County?

In a divided 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit just reversed the lower court ruling from last year that found Christian-only, Commissioner-led prayers in Rowan County unconstitutional. The ACLU will be appealing today's decision to the full Forth Circuit.

As these are always "fact-sensitive cases," I want to draw your attention to this quote from the Forth Circuit's majority opinion released today:
"The Board's practice here, where each commissioner gives their own prayer without oversight, input, or direction by the Board simply does not present the same concerns of the 'government' [attempting] to define permissible categories of religious speech."
Now try to square that with this quote from Rowan Commissioner Jon Barber when the Commissioners starting praying behind closed doors in 2013 in reaction to the lawsuit:
"The holy bible reflects the views of this Board of Commissioners."
And as David Gibbs III, lead attorney for Rowan County commissioners, told a crowd at a "Return America" rally later in 2013, you just can't have a prayer without Jesus because...
"If you have prayer without Jesus, you just formed a non-Jesus religion."
I'm sure glad nobody is attempting to define permissible categories of religious speech in Rowan County. Note that Greece v Galloway was a 5-4 decision, so the next U.S. President will appoint the deciding vote in cases like this in the future...

Ron Baity, president of Return America. Photo Credit: Winston-Salem Journal.
More information:
Update: ACLU (1 Nov 2016) — “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit announced yesterday that the full court would reconsider [this] September 2–1 panel decision…”

Friday, September 2, 2016

New available posts on Medium

I decided to try out Medium. I really like the simplicity of editing and publishing with their platform, but the search indexing and reach of my posts have not been too stellar so far. So I'm still undecided...

Here are my Medium posts to-date, which I will not be duplicating here:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Whoa" is right

"Whoa" [(h)wo] exclamation - a familiar Southern expression used to stop your ass or announce your candidacy for a Darwin Award.
Sounds like a normal reaction to both listening to, and voting for, Trump...
If not, you might be an ass...
A former staffer for Donald Trump's campaign alleged in a lawsuit this week that a top aide in North Carolina pulled out a gun while the pair traveled together in February and held the loaded firearm to the staffer's kneecap...
"This was a difficult decision. Vincent was a long-time GOP operative. What's more, he truly respected Mr. Trump and had every intention of dedicating himself to getting him elected in November. Vincent forewent alerting authorities because putting Mr. Trump in the White House was his goal. But enough is enough."
You have three months to make a decision...

Burrito de páramo (Páramo baby donkey).jpg
By Patricio Mena Vásconez.
Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Revisionist "History Saturday" in Newton, NC

Slave Market-Atlanta Georgia 1864.jpg
Slave trader's business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.
By George N. Barnard - Public Domain
You probably won't see this image at "History Saturday" in Newton, N.C. this Saturday (August 13). According to organizers, the event will provide local residents with an "opportunity to learn about the racial diversity of the Confederate army" and view a Confederate submarine - and probably some flags as well. This new event was organized after some concerns were expressed about the use of the confederate flag in Newton's Old Soldiers Reunion parade.

I marched in this parade every year with my high school band during the 1970s, but I don't recall ever seeing a Confederate flag there. And I don't see any of them in older photos of the event that were recently shared on Facebook by the Catawba County Museum of History - including photos from the late 1890s, the early 1900s, the 1920s, 19491952, and 1956. Back in the "good old days," the confederate flag was seldom seen unless accompanied by a hood. But since the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015, and the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, some private citizens in my area have raised their battle flags on their lawnspickup trucks, and even in some tree tops.

The "Virginia Flaggers" just raised one of the largest confederate flags in the country (30-by-50 feet) in Danville, Virginia, and the South Carolina Secessionist Party has launched "Operation Retaliation" to raise money to put Confederate flags on private property in South Carolina. You probably won't see a 30-by-50 foot Confederate flag in Newton on Saturday, but you will see an African American, likely dressed in a Confederate uniform, telling some white folks how great things were for General Robert E. Lee's cook and body servant. He may even call him Lee's "body guard" but is not likely to refer to him by the name Rev. Mack Lee once used for himself - "Robert's ole nigger." As one of the guest speakers, H.K Edgerton is a local treasure. In 2009 he threatened to sue a city councilman over his lack of belief in God.

But you're not likely to hear about Dylann Roof on Saturday. And you won't hear about how the Confederate flag may stir up racist attitudes among whites and propagate itself in the form of thousands of micro-aggressive racist acts. You probably won't hear the original words of the flag's supporters or how it is used by extremists to brainwash poor white Americans. Because who wants to learn about history, evidence, or current events at "History Saturday"? So sit back and relax, raise your battle flag, and pass the pork rinds. But you might want to leave the kids at home!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Reflections on participating in my first public interfaith event

Photo Credit: CVIC
Last night I participated in a panel discussion on interfaith on behalf of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (HHA). The event went really well, and I look forward to additional public events in the future. My prepared remarks are included below (with references).

The only lowlight of the night was when one of the panelists (a self-described "fundamentalist" Christian) trotted out that tired old cliché about how there are supposedly "no atheists in foxholes." My initial response - a "face palm" - resulted in laughter from the audience so I just let it pass and didn't respond directly.

This was the first time I had met this speaker, but I do hope he comes to future interfaith meetings so we can educate him about the problems with this particular cliché. I'll let Hemant Mehta explain it in more detail, but if you don't have 5 minutes to watch the video consider if I had said that there are "no Christians in children's hospitals" or that there were "no Jews at Auschwitz."

Below are my prepared remarks. I did ad-lib a bit prior to these remarks, mainly noting how the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council has been very welcoming to us at HHA.

As an atheist and a secular humanist I’m often asked why I’m involved in “interfaith” - since I don’t have any faith. But I do have a lot of hope for what secular and religious people can accomplish together if we apply our collective intelligence and compassion to advance our shared goals. Humanists view “the good life” as one “inspired by love and guided by knowledge,” [i] and I believe many people of faith also share these core values. But we don’t have to agree on everything. Some of us – both religious and non-religious - also recognize that diversity makes us smarter. According to a recent article in Scientific American, “decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that simply being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.” [ii] The field of science itself depends on its diversity to facilitate specialization, invigorate problem solving, and balance biases. [iii] Diversity can be difficult and cause some discomfort, but it also enhances creativity and changes the way we think and act. Diversity enriches our lives and our communities.
And I would argue that a secular perspective in particular is necessary for any truly diverse “interfaith” dialogue. Otherwise - it seems to me - you’re just “preaching to the choir.” Roughly one in four Americans are now religiously unaffiliated, and somewhere between 12 and 21% identify as atheist or agnostic. [iv] But non-religious perspectives are just as diverse as religious perspectives, and we certainly don’t speak with one voice. Instead, we tend to embrace dissent and skepticism. However, many of us also believe in:
·       Building relationships based on mutual respect and our common humanity.
·       Recognizing and trying to understand our differences.
·       Working together to make our community a better place for all of us.
Many secular people are very concerned about the growing homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in our nation that wants to build walls between people instead of bridges. We’re disturbed by the increase in populist and extremist rhetoric that marginalizes and demonizes minorities. And we’re appalled by mean-spirited and misguided legislation that attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by targeting transgender people who just need to pee. I watched most of the very short debate and public comments on House Bill 2 at the North Carolina General Assembly in March. One of the speakers during the public comments was a transgender woman named Madeline Goss. She’s a software engineer in the Research Triangle, but she grew up in Hickory. She told our state legislators something that we should all reflect on if we are interested in fostering a more compassionate community: “I love Hickory, but I was bullied and tortured mercilessly there. And where did it happen? It happened in the men's room. This place is a place of danger for me, and what this bill would do is send me back there. I left Hickory for places that are safe, like Charlotte and Raleigh....I can't use the men's room. I won't go back to the men's room. It is unsafe for me there. People like me die there every day.” [v]
How do we make this community a safe and welcoming place for Madeline? Several years ago a local Christian pastor made international news by proposing – from the pulpit - a “solution” to the “problem” of homosexuality – essentially, his solution involved death camps. [vi] Even in the wake of Orlando, several pastors across the nation were celebrating the “good news” that “there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world” [vii] and bemoaning the “tragedy” that “more of them didn’t die.” This type of rhetoric only emboldens those who bully, torture, and kill the Madeline’s of the world, and common decency demands that we condemn it.
The list goes on – and gets worse. We could talk about Charleston and the sudden unfurling of confederate battle flags in our area. We could talk about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Or Ferguson and Baltimore…or Dallas and Baton Rouge. Or the ongoing threats and violence across the country targeted at Muslims (or people who “look” Muslim) and several ugly recent examples of Islamophobia in a local county commission [viii] and in a paid ad last year in the Hickory Daily Record. [ix] Or we could talk about Colorado Springs and a certain local street preacher who has an image of a fetus on the side of his truck – and, as far as I know, a legal concealed carry permit. [x]
So there’s plenty of work to do. But I also want to acknowledge the great work that the other members of this interfaith council have been doing, and continue to do, in this community to help mitigate these and other issues. As a representative of the Hickory Humanist Alliance, I want to publically extend our group’s sincere thanks to all of you for your ongoing efforts - and for reaching out to us to be part of this effort.

[i] Ryan Bell. “Bertrand Russell on the good life.” Year Without God blog (February 10, 2015). Available online at
[ii] Katherine W. Phillips. “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.” Scientific American (October 1, 2014). Available online at
[iii] UC Berkeley. “The scientific community: Diversity makes the difference.” Available online at
[iv] Phil Zuckerman, et. al. The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies. Oxford University Press (2016).
[v] Human Rights Campaign. “Maddy Goss Speaks to North Carolina House Panel About Nondiscrimination Bill.” (March 28, 2016). Available online at
[vi] Cacamaymie. "N.C. Pastor Charles Worley: 'Put Gays And Lesbians In Electrified Pen To Kill Them Off.'" (May 21, 2012). Available online at
[vii] Hemant Mehta. "MIRROR: Response to Orlando Gay Bar Shooting Florida nightclub." (June 13, 2016). Available online at
[viii] Andrew Dunn. “Lincoln County commissioner walks out during Muslim prayer.” Charlotte Observer (August 4, 2015). Available online at
[ix] William Keener. “Open Letter to Local Christian Right Pastors: How to Be Better Haters of Evil.” Skeptical Poets Society blog (January 31, 2016). Available online at
[x] Phil Perry. “Lincolnton street preacher won’t back down.” Lincoln Times-News (May 29, 2015). Available online at

Monday, July 25, 2016

The formidable gamble of dialogue

As I prepare to speak at this week's interfaith event in Hickory, I'm reading and reflecting on both the need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation - and the limitations. On the latter, here's an interesting topical piece by Wendy Wall, an associate professor of 20th century American history. She points out parallels between now and the 1930s and 1940s when “unity” campaigns emerged in response to "political rancor, social division and the threat posed by 'alien' ideologies" which "sparked widespread unease." While encouraging Americans to unite around shared values these efforts, according to Wall, merely provided a "veneer of unity" which "concealed a behind-the-scenes contest over America’s core values" and "often promoted civility rather than real social change."
Such unity-building efforts did help to discredit open prejudice against both religious and racial minorities. For the most part, however, they failed to address the structural inequalities of race and class that have haunted this nation for decades. By marginalizing dissenters and casting all who disrupted national unity as somehow un-American they shored up existing power structures and left intact the social and economic status quo.
Zooming out some, here's a thoroughly depressing piece of historical prognostication about how we may be "entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals" along with yet another uncertain appeal to emotion and another plea to build bridges:
What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority...The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided...we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.
Reflecting on the aftermath of World War II, Albert Camus wrote in Combat, the daily newspaper of the French Resistance, that while "he who bases his hopes on human nature [may be] a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions." Interfaith dialogue is a necessary but not sufficient part of this formidable gamble in my view. Political dialogue is also needed. But dialogue alone also isn't sufficient. It's just a start...

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hickory Interfaith Panel to Include Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Humanist Speakers

HHA Delivers an Invocation at a CVIC Meeting in May
I am participating in a interfaith panel discussion in Hickory on behalf of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (HHA) on July 28. The event is hosted by the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC) and is open to the public. The theme for the event is "fostering a more compassionate community."

I have been serving on the Board of Directors for CVIC for a few months now, and I am looking forward to sharing a secular humanist perspective on the need for respectful interfaith dialogue and cooperation and what HHA brings to the table. Please like and share CVIC's page and event on Facebook, and join us at the First Presbyterian Church in Hickory on Thursday for what should be an interesting discussion.

Note: There was an article in the print edition of today's Hickory Daily about this event. The article suggested that I disagree with being called an "atheist" and that I said "I have a strong faith" in humanity. I'm not sure where the reporter got this idea and quote - they certainly aren't mine. But since he brought it up, feel free to ask me about the threat of "conspicuous atheism" or my lack of "faith" during the Q&A.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Camus: Neither Victims Nor Executioners

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)
"There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for."

As I type, four police officers are now confirmed dead from sniper attacks on the police at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas following the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Much ink will be spilled in the coming days about these tragic events, their causes, and possible solutions. For now, my thoughts return to Camus' classic cold war essay: "Neither Victims Nor Executioners." It was written for a different time, and a different context, but his powerful words still resonate today...

Neither Victims Nor Executioners
Yes, we must raise our voices. Up to this point, I have refrained from
appealing to emotion. We are being torn apart by a logic of history which
we have elaborated in every detail--a net which threatens to strangle us.
It is not emotion which can cut through the web of a logic which has
gone to irrational lengths, but only reason which can meet logic on its
own ground. But I should not want to leave the impression... that any
program for the future can get along without our powers of love and
indignation. I am well aware that it takes a powerful prime mover to get
men into motion and that it is hard to throw one's self into a struggle
whose objectives are so modest and where hope has only a rational basis--
and hardly even that. But the problem is not how to carry men away; it is
essential, on the contrary, that they not be carried away but rather that
they be made to understand clearly what they are doing.
To save what can be saved so as to open up some kind of future--that is
the prime mover, the passion and the sacrifice that is required. It
demands only that we reflect and then decide, clearly, whether humanity's
lot must be made still more miserable in order to achieve far-off and
shadowy ends, whether we should accept a world bristling with arms where
brother kills brother; or whether, on the contrary, we should avoid
bloodshed and misery as much as possible so that we give a chance for
survival to later generations better equipped than we are.
For my part, I am fairly sure that I have made the choice. And, having
chosen, I think that I must speak out, that I must state that I will
never again be one of those, whoever they be, who compromise with murder,
and that I must take the consequences of such a decision. The thing is
done, and that is as far as I can go at present....
[T]here is no reason why some of us should not take on the job of keeping
alive, through the apocalyptic historical vista that stretches before us, a
modest thoughtfulness which, without pretending to solve everything, will
constantly be prepared to give some human meaning to everyday life.
The essential thing is that people should carefully weight the price
they must pay....

All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect
on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those
who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the
accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their
force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist,
it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five
continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to
be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in
which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success
than that of the latter. But 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 circum-
stances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be
to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful
than munitions.
You can listen to a reading of a related Camus piece at a recent month-long celebration of his only visit to the US (in 1946):

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Looking for a succinct definition of humanism?

Source: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta
Wikipedia defines "humanism" as "a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition." The American Humanist Association defines it as "a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." And the International Humanist and Ethical Union defines it as "a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality." But I've always preferred Bertrand Russell's maxim that the "good life" is "one inspired by love and guided by knowledge" as the most succinct definition.

How would you define humanism?

Friday, July 1, 2016

NCGA: Want some air freshener for the outhouse?

Last night several members of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (HHA) and the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC) attended a public dialogue on HB2 at Lenoir-Rhyne (LR) University in Hickory. The event was hosted by the Olive Branch Ministry and open to the public. It was a great discussion, but I was disappointed by the low turnout (less than a hundred) given the topic. It was refreshing to hear from a local, open atheist, transgender woman (on the panel), and several speakers talked about the harm religion does to those in the LGBT community.

Meanwhile in Raleigh, the latest news indicates that "North Carolina lawmakers will likely repeal a small piece of House Bill 2 dealing with the right to sue for wrongful termination, but they won't take up a broader rewrite of the controversial measure dealing with LGBT rights, according to [NC House Speaker Tim Moore]." The NBA probably isn't going to be happy, even without the "certificate of sex reassignment surgery" requirement that was part of a draft bill that was leaked earlier this week. The short session of the General Assembly is expected to end in days now, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens. But it looks like Kevin Siers nailed it...

Kevin Siers: The NC bathroom bill fix
Note that we also learned yesterday that the NC Senate has approved giving Governor McCrory half a million dollars from our state's disaster relief fund to defend HB2 in court. Add this to the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars we've already spent trying to fight gay marriage, defend a magistrates recusal law similar to one in Mississippi that was just ruled unconstitutional, defend unconstitutional doctor-narrated ultrasounds before abortions, and racial gerrymandering.

And so, our state's race to the bottom continues...brought to you by:

Tim Moore, Pat McCrory, Phil Berger
Update: 10:30 pm - The General Assembly just passed HB 169 with limited tort changes to HB2 (restores the right to sue for discrimination in state court) and a repeal of the restriction on pet turtle sales (among a bunch of other "regulatory reductions" - for example, on vehicle emissions in Burke, Cleveland, Robeson, Rutherford, Stanley, Stokes, Surry, and Wilkes counties).

Update: July 2 - Actually, the repeal of onerous restrictions on pet turtle sales, dumping electronics in landfills, and vehicle emission tests (in some counties) - among a bunch of other "regulatory reductions" - were apparently removed from HB 169 late last night. So the HB 2 change is all that was ratified. But don't worry - given our state legislators, I wouldn't be surprised if they revisit these assaults on our freedoms in the next session.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

DO something

Hemant Mehta has a list of things you can do. I'll add two:
  1. Reach out to someone in the LGBT community, listen to them, get to know them.
  2. Reach out to someone in the Muslim community, listen to them, get to know them.
Be Someone's Candle in the Dark
"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."
 - Bertrand Russell 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Information about the medical vaccine exemption in North Carolina

As Paul Offit explains there are generally three ways to exempt someone from required vaccines: for medical, religious, or philosophical reasons. And while North Carolina doesn't allow a philosophical exemption based on the "personal belief or philosophy of a parent or guardian not founded upon a religious belief," the religious exemption is easy enough to (ab)use in the case of "philosophical" objections as I've written about already. But what about the medical exemption?

North Carolina law provides for a medical vaccine exemption under G.S. 130A-156 "[i]f a physician licensed to practice medicine in this State certifies that a required immunization is or may be detrimental to a person's health due to the presence of one of the contraindications adopted by the Commission" or the physician requests that the State Health Director grant an exemption "for a contraindication not on the list adopted by the Commission." In the latter case, the physician must also provide "documentation to support the request (clinic notes, labs, etc)." For more details and links to the related general statutes and administrative code, check out the NC DHS web site. 

Polio vaccination in Sweden 1957.jpg
By Ingemar Berling/Pressens Bild.
Press Photo. Public Domain

This post is part of a series on vaccines.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why Are Non-Medical Vaccine Exemptions Still Legal?

Marco Arturo is a twelve-year old who wants to share the scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism - spoiler alert: it doesn't exist. Meanwhile Kate Lunau, at Motherboard, asks why non-medical vaccine exemptions are still legal - concluding that philosophical exemptions are something we'll just have to live with. We might also add whooping cough to that list...

But there's no mystery why personal belief exemptions are still a thing. I've already mentioned the ugly backlash last year to SB346 in NC. But just look at this "ugly disruption" of a public seminar on immunizations in Perth, Australia on Monday.

"In the antivaccine movement, the Dunning-Kruger effect tends to take the form of parents who think that their University of Google knowledge trumps the knowledge of physicians and scientists who have dedicated large swaths of their lives to the rigorous study of conditions such as autism and the question of how vaccines work." - Orac
Put Kids First
TAKE ACTION: Help put kids first and eliminate non-medical exemptions in North Carolina!

Note: This post is part of a series on vaccines.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Vaccines: Online documentaries and discussion with an expert

Here are some informative online resources on vaccines...

Discussion with Paul A. Offit, MD

Put Kids First

Note: This post is part of a series on vaccines.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How North Carolina law enables vaccine hesitancy

Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that "vaccine hesitancy" is a “complex and rapidly changing global problem that requires ongoing monitoring” and a “plan to measure and address” it. WHO's warning came with a compendium of survey questions to assess the underlying determinant of vaccine hesitancy and recommended some interventions to address those specific determinants, including:
North Carolina currently has both a “medical exemption” and a “religious exemption” but no “personal belief” exemption not founded upon a religious belief. But according to NC General Statute 130A-157, parents can simply send a note to school with their child:

There is no form for requesting religious exemptions in North Carolina. To claim a religious exemption, the parent or person requesting the exemption must write a statement of their religious objection to immunization, including the name and date of birth of the person for whom the exemption is being requested. This statement would then be provided to schools, child care programs, camps, etc. in place of an immunization record. If a family is requesting a religious exemption for more than one child, a separate statement should be prepared for each child. Statements of religious objection to immunization do not need to be notarized, signed by a religious leader, or prepared by an attorney. They do not need to be submitted to the state for review or approval.”

And as my favorite epidemiologist, Ben Goldacre, notes: "[A]s any trendy MMR-dodging north-London middle-class humanities-graduate couple with children would agree, just because vaccination has almost eradicated polio – a debilitating disease which as recently as 1988 was endemic in 125 countries – that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing."

Note: This post is part of series on vaccines.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Andy Taylor approach to convincing vaccine "skeptics"

While writing my last post I was reminded of an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, the County Nurse (1962), in which Andy convinces Rafe Hollister to get a tetanus shot. If you haven't seen it, it involved some reverse psychology and a sad song that Andy said he might sing (if he "aint too broke up") at Rafe's funeral (after he dies from tetanus because he didn't get the shot).

And to further illustrate the point of my last post, while searching for this video online I stumbled upon this disturbing piece by a "natural health blogger and food freedom activist" who is worried about this "disturbing forced vaccine push" by Sherriff Taylor.

Julie Adams, The Andy Griffith Show, "The County Nurse," 1962
Rafe Hollister gets a tetanus shot
But as it turns out, Andy may have been onto something: Reminding people about the terrible diseases that vaccines prevent, and their consequences, appears to be a successful way to convince vaccine "skeptics":
“It’s more effective to accentuate the positive reasons to vaccinate and take a non-confrontational approach — ‘Here are reasons to get vaccinated’ — than directly trying to counter the negative arguments against vaccines,” said Keith Holyoak, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Psychology and a senior author of the study. “There was a reason we all got vaccinated: Measles makes you very sick. That gets forgotten in the polarizing debate on whether the vaccine has side effects...”
“People who are skeptical about vaccines are concerned about the safety of their children,” said Derek Powell, a UCLA graduate student in psychology and co-lead author of the study. “They want their kids to be healthy. That’s also what doctors want. Instead of fighting their misconception, remind them why the vaccine is the best way to keep their kids safe...”
“Try not to be directly confrontational,” Holyoak said. “Try to find common ground, where possible, and build on that.” 
That said, it may sometimes be tough to find common ground with an extreme minority who believe mandatory vaccines are a form of "medical terrorism."
Note: This post is part of a series on vaccines.

Eliminating non-medical vaccine exemptions in NC

Join the Put Kids First Campaign!

I'm the Legislative Chair of the Secular Coalition for North Carolina (SCNC), and we are holding our third annual lobby day at the North Carolina General Assembly on June 21. If you would like to participate in person please RSVP via our website before June 14. In addition to urging our state lawmakers to repeal HB 2 in full, we will also be lobbing them for a new bill to put kids first and eliminate non-medical vaccine exemptions in North Carolina.

Last year a bipartisan group of state senators introduced a modest bill that would have enacted stricter immunization requirements by repealing the religious exemption, revising vaccination requirements to make them more consistent with CDC recommendations, and requiring all students be screened for severe combined immunodeficiency prior to immunization. The bill was dropped by its co-sponsors less than two weeks after it was introduced - ironically enough on April Fools' Day.

As I noted in the op-ed I wrote for SCNC at the time, a vocal minority of misguided individuals quickly lashed out at the co-sponsors of the bill on their Facebook pages, and several dozen protestors rallied in Raleigh holding signs comparing mandatory vaccination to Nazi Germany, war crimes and terrorism. We hope that our state legislators are ready to listen to more reasonable voices on this issue. As the executive director at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, Stephanie Wasserman, recently told NPR, "It shouldn’t be easier to get an exemption than it is to get a vaccine."

Please consider joining SCNC for our lobby day in Raleigh, or join SCA's Put Kids First campaign and contact your NC state representatives to sponsor an updated immunization bill that addresses the concerns expressed by the North Carolina Pediatric Society last year. We need your help to encourage our state legislators to pass evidence-based policies and not be intimidated once again by a misinformed but vocal minority with a crash course in epidemiology from the University of Google.

Note: This post is part of a series on vaccine policy in NC.

Update: If you can't make it to Raleigh on June 21, you can still help with this effort. Just make sure you sign up for action alerts from SCA, and we'll send you alert alerts with details on what you can do locally to support our Lobby Day effort and future issues of concern for secular North Carolinians..

Monday, May 9, 2016

On boundaries

Tracey Moody's post...

Reminded me that I had recently spotted another case in the wild locally...
So please remember...some (not all) Christians have issues with boundaries...

Monday, April 11, 2016

An open letter to Michael L. Brown

My response to Michael L. Brown's open letter to Bruce Springsteen and his band...

Dear Michael,

As a sixth generation North Carolinian and a life-long resident of the state who attended college in Charlotte (UNCC) and has worked* in the Queen City for the last twenty-five years, I read with interest your open letter to Bruce Springsteen about his boycott of North Carolina over HB2. In your letter you asked Bruce a number of questions which raise even more questions in my mind.

So, please allow me to ask you some questions.

First, HB2 aside, how do you know if someone is really a "woman" or not? Is it determined entirely by how they look? If so, do you think that it might be hard to make judgements about a person's gender based entirely on how they look? What about a woman that looks like a man (but identifies as a woman)? Do we need to check birth certificates or inspect their genitalia to be sure? If not, how do we really know?

Second, what about an intersex person with ambiguous outer genitalia? Where should they pee? Did you ever stop to consider that? Are you also aware that our knowledge of the biology of gender is still evolving? Do you actually know any transgender people? Have you talked to them about this issue?

Perhaps I’m being too abstract here, so let’s get really practical. Let’s say that a transgender male - who looks very male and has had sex reassignment surgery but hasn't updated their birth certificate yet - let's say they need to pee. Do you know which bathroom HB2 requires this person to use? Do you know that this person is required to use the women's room on the way to the register of deeds office to update their birth certificate, and they're required to use the men's room on their way home?

Also, can you point me to the enforcement mechanisms in HB2 that will ensure "rapists and voyeurs and pedophiles don't have free access to our women and daughters in the safety of their own bathrooms and locker rooms?" What stops these predators from dressing as women and going to women's bathrooms to commit crimes today? What's our plan to keep these predators out? What's our plan to protect transgender youth from discrimination and abuse in bathrooms? What our plan for dealing with HB2 vigilantes trying to enforce this new law? What's our plan to protect our children from sexual abuse by clergy and coaches and elected officials?

Finally, is your group still on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-LGBT hate groups? Can you explain why you considered it a "badge of honor"** to be on the SPLC's list? And why do you persist in spreading misinformation about the impact of HB2? Will you be writing an open letter to Jimmy Buffett next? Or Nikki Haley? Did you go to Raleigh today? Are you going to Greensboro tomorrow? Have you reached out to Justin Bieber yet?

Image Credit: ABC News

Footnotes (in the interest of full disclosure):

* I work for a company that signed the letter urging repeal of HB2, but I do not speak for them.
** I consider it a "badge of honor" to be a member of several local and national secular groups that were on the American Family Association's "bigotry map" (RIP), but I've never had (nor will have) any association with groups on the SPLC list. Google it.