Archive for August, 2012

Atheism Plus, third try

August 28, 2012 Comments off
Atheism Plus logo

Atheism Plus logo

(If you have not heard of Atheism Plus, you won’t miss anything skipping this post. It’s an internal discussion.)

I’ve already written two posts about Atheism Plus, the new movement, or resurgence, or emphasis, or lane, or channel, or (depending who you ask) clique in Atheism, proposed by Jennifer McCreight. But I never published them because developments are moving faster than I can write. In particular, even some of my friends think A+ is a simply terrible idea; a clique, a club, or even a new religion.

Including friends who support diversity and equality. So theoretically we’re on the same side.

I’m not good at conflict, at telling my friends their sincere opinions don’t match my own. It saddens me more than it inspires me, so my typing fingers come to a stop. I have thoughts, but I can’t get them out. Here, I am forcing them.

When I hear; “But we have always supported GLBT equality!” or “We’ve always welcomed women here!” it sounds to me like “But not all Christians are like that!” Well, of course they’re not. If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit. At least, acquit yourself.

When I hear someone complaining that A+ rhetoric is too exclusive or extreme, it sounds like “I’ll tell them when they’re being mistreated, and when it’s time to complain and how. Until then, they should shut up!”

But most of all – sorry if this is hard to hear – I hear privilege. I hear calls to courage from someone who is comfortable and safe.

We atheists are right to complain about it when one of us faces job discrimination, or has to listen to unwelcome proselytizing, or one of our signs get torn down, or someone threatens us. Or a Darwin Fish is torn off one of our cars or some church puts up a stupid sign. Once in a great while (in this country) there are actual acts of violence against one of us.

But just for perspective, something like one out of five women have been raped. Three women every day are murdered by their intimate partner. And those crimes don’t exist as outliers far away from other kinds of abuse. Adjacent to them is every kind of intimidation, condescension, discrimination and downright harassment imaginable that women face every day. Walk down the street? Get propositioned by someone who could kill you with his bare hands. Buy coffee? Dude stares at your chest. Get into an elevator? Make a high-stakes calculation first. Work in an office? Maintain careful distance from male co-workers because of multiple experiences. So probably three out of the remaining four women have been in some pretty dicey situations, looking for an exit.

A lot of misogyny is religiously based, but apparently a lot of it is cultural, too. When atheist women try to take part in atheist events and are threatened with rape, and their home addresses are published, there could be a good reason why they take it a scoche more seriously than we dangly d00ds do.  Because we’d be crapping our pants if we had to face it. With our testosterone levels, we’d be packing heat and mace and a hatchet for good measure, and anybody who laid a hand on us would get it back gift-wrapped. But if women so much as talk about their experiences, they’re called liars and feminist bitches.

So, to my good friends who don’t support A+, I say this: You don’t have to. You wouldn’t be my friend in the first place if I thought you weren’t OK with diversity or if you mistreated people who have reason to be afraid. Good on you for that. But I’m putting my support behind A+. If women generally and GLBTQ minorities specifically seem just a little tetchy, I’m gonna consider how the world might look from their point of view.

I’ve got some friends whom I respect deeply who support A+. It may not be the perfect answer – heaven knows there’s been enough second-guessing from the safe and comfortable to sell it wholesale – but it’s their solution. The issues they’re highlighting have been weighing on my mind for a long time. I’m not anybody’s protector but I know how to stand alongside a friend when they’re doing something important.

OK that’s it. Publishing this one.

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The End. But in the meantime…

August 26, 2012 Comments off

I just take pictures of things that catch my attention. Bugs, birds, plants, the play of sunlight in falling rain. And Death.

Bird, on road

I’m aware that most people turn away, but we really shouldn’t. There is so much to be learned: as a part of life on Earth, death is worthy of study. And if we can get over our culturally-driven revulsion for a moment, death is a silent prophecy for us. A message, to appreciate the wonder and uniqueness of what we have and what we are.

There are about 75 billion tonnes of living mass on the Earth – all of it amazing in its intricacy, and we are lucky enough to be among the minuscule fraction that is conscious. It seems like a lot until you compare it to the six sextillion tonnes of nonliving and insensate planet that we live on, and the rest of the solar system’s mass is about 4.6 billion times as much as the planet. To the best of our knowledge, this life is the only one we have, on this little planet, orbiting around the gravity well of a 1.99×10^30 tonne fusion reactor.

Again, that sounds like a lot – but it’s mostly empty space. You have to look hard to even find Jupiter.

When you sleep tonight, think on this: as far as we know the universe does not sleep, nor dream. Nor have coffee in the morning. Nor watch the sun come up. It is the sun coming up, but it doesn’t know. We do know.

Yes, we struggle, and sometimes we’re the bird on the pavement. But until then, look up. Look around. Use your senses. Revel even in the icky stuff – because you are here to know about it.

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For all you would-be heroes who think you’ll save the day by carrying a gun…

August 25, 2012 10 comments

(The ballistics report is back from the Empire State shooting. It contains some surprises. Or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a long post; I won’t be offended if you go right to the link at the end.)

An entertainment culture lives partly in the real world, and partly in a fantasy world. People fantasize all the time about winning the lottery: they think about helping their relatives, buying a better house, traveling. And whenever there’s a public shooting, people fantasize about what they would do if they were there… with a gun.

C’mon, gun-advocate; admit it. When you write huffy comments under news stories saying;  ”If only a citizen with a gun had been there, it wouldn’t have gone on so long! Lives would have been saved!” – you’re talking about yourself. Aren’t you.

How it’s gonna go down

Of course, you’d need some training. Probably take a course! And maybe practice at the gun range. And in the morning, you’d slip that weight into your concealed holster, along with your watch, your keys, and your wallet. Just another ordinary day, for an armed citizen in Free America.

Then one day, when you least expect it, someone opens up on the crowd. “Pop! Pop! Pop!” and you hear a ricochet “Pop! Bwrrrrrew!” and people are screaming and you can smell powder and the exits clog up instantly. And they’re all helpless against the murderous insanity of the shooter. All of them… except you.

Instead of hitting the deck, you pull out your gun as you rise to your feet. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and a solid, two-handed grip, you pull back the hammer and slip your finger into the trigger guard. “Drop your weapon!”, you call out. All motion in the room stops. The crowd looks from the shooter to you. The shooter wheels around to see you standing there, grimly determined that if anyone else is to be shot, it will be him.

He raises his gun in your direction. You squeeze your trigger; the gun bucks in your hand. He drops his gun and falls to the floor, nursing a fatal wound.

Afterward, you receive the gratitude and appreciation of the community and law enforcement. Interviewed by a local news program – or possibly on FOX News, you say; “My heart was pounding, but this is exactly what I trained for. I had to stop him. Innocent lives were at stake.”

Yeah. Damn, you’re cool.

The professional fantasy

Like most people, you think that if you had professional tools in your hands, you could do what professionals do. Given a Ferrari, you could do pretty well at rally racing. With ten thousand dollars worth of photo equipment, you could do sports photography as well as those guys in Sports Illustrated. Pretty close, anyway.

The fantasy starts to break down if you think about cooking a gourmet meal, if only you had… what, better pots? A magic stirring spoon? But if you’re like most Internet commenters, you’re quite sure that if you had a gun, you could do at least as well as a cop would, if there were a cop on the scene with a gun.

How well do the professionals handle it?

There’s a reason police departments have SWAT teams; they’re specialists. Your everyday officer is a generalist: he has a wide range of skills from giving directions to mediating domestic disputes to stopping a mugger, and he does better at some of them than others. Yes, he has training with the gun; more than you will have, and more practice too. But we learn again and again when someone is perforated for reaching for his wallet or a mentally-challenged person is shot for driving away from a traffic stop: making a discriminating kill is a challenge even for professionals.

Case in point: the Empire State shooter. Dude opens up at a national landmark. He was after a specific individual, but the two veteran – not rookie, but trained, experienced cops didn’t know that. They took down the gunman, all right, but they also injured nine bystanders.

Think about that: these two guys have a better chance at using a gun to effect than you ever will; they’re professionals, with years of experience. And the result? NYPD: Ballistics show all 9 wounded outside Empire State Building were shot by police.

Now suppose two or three ordinary citizens had been there, and pulled out their pieces. Same two cops, same situation, but lots more guns; I’m sure everything would have been just fine.


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