Friday, January 27, 2012

A Perfect Example of Kindness and Strength

After months of fighting against the ravages of cancer, our family lost a remarkable woman Thursday night...

My aunt Linda (pictured left), whose personality always seemed unbreakable, was one of the few relatives that I sought out at parties and family holidays.  I can remember pulling up a chair next to her just so I could hear the stories she would tell.  In fact, if a family get-together began to fade, she was the one you could count on to reenergize the entire household in minutes by revealing just enough of our parent's past to keep all of us kids hanging on her every word.  We all loved to hear her reassure us that our parents were kids just like us!

And I doubt my dad even realizes this, but I learned more about him and what kind of boy he was just by listening to Aunt Linda's childhood memories...

Up to the very end, Linda always remained uncommonly close to her daughter, Tonya (my cousin - above right).  The enduring relationship that they shared should be envied by all mothers and daughters.

My heart goes out to you, Tonya...  You've shown strength and resolve over the past few months that everyone knew hid behind that full-toothed grin you inherited from your mom.  I am humbled by your unlimited benevolence during the most trying of days; and as I raise my own daughter and son, I will always consider the two of you as role models.

Your mom was an energetic, adventurous, compassionate, hysterical, and devoted mother, grandmother, sister and aunt.  Her memory will live on with us all...

*          *          *          *          *

My aunt Linda died of malignant melanoma.  She is the third person in my family to be diagnosed with the disease, and the second to die from it.

Please, please pay attention to your skin.  Malignant melanoma can be cured if you catch it early, but kills quickly if you don't.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Atheist Billboard in Colorado

Most of the time I don't write about a sliver of local news that's already been covered by other bloggers, but while I was reading through my blogroll, there was one that immediately caught my interest.  It was a really good piece by Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist, who wrote about a new atheist billboard going up in Colorado.  I like this billboard because it's direct and up in your face with its message: "God is an imaginary friend".  Here's a picture:

The reason I've suddenly taken an interest in the state of Colorado, and more importantly Denver, is that I had a run-in with the lead pastor of the Rangeview Church in Thornton, Colorado just a few months ago.  (Thornton is a suburb located just North of Denver.)  And let me tell you, that conversation was extremely enlightening.  If there are hordes of people like Scott Cheatham, I can only imagine the uprising that's likely to follow these billboards.

Okay, yes...  I'll admit that I get a little giggly when I think about my man Scott getting all hot under the collar when he sees one of the two billboards in Denver.  And yes, I'm REALLY hoping he drives by one.

So, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes and say, Nice work Boulder Atheists!!!  The thought of Cheatham seeing one of those billboards has made that bizarre conversation with him worth every word!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Fundieland" Over Education in Kentucky

As much as it disappoints me when state legislators cut funding for education, this one qualifies as unrestrained idiocy and outright madness.  Last Friday, Governor Steve Beshear (D) of the state of Kentucky proposed his 2012-2013 budget.  In it, Gov. Beshear proposes $286 million in cuts that include a 6.4 percent cut to higher education.  If you think that's bad, believe me, it gets worse.

This budget proposal does not directly cut funding to the K-12 public schools.  What it also doesn't do is consider population growth as a factor when funding the state's K-12 education.  This means that Kentucky's public education system will have less money to spend per student.  Amazingly, Gov. Beshear wears this like a badge.

Of course, he doesn't mention that he has added $11 million to build highways around the "ark park".  But this is about education, so let's not lose focus.

I suppose I could give him some credit, since he admits that the budget is, "inadequate for the needs" of the state's people.  But this understatement is almost as big as the silly Ark (500ft x 75ft) in the Christian amusement park that this state is trying to build, so I don't think he deserves any credit after all.

Instead, I think Gov. Beshear may be hoping for one of two things: 1) that we don't remember his $43 million dollar tax break for the "ark park" back in May of 2011; or 2) that he can hide behind the false assertion that his budget proposal is maintaining the funding for public education.

Regarding Gov. Beshear's first hope, many people are still waiting to see if Answers in Genesis actually breaks ground on this amusement park since it's been delayed at least four times now.  And to his second hope, Gov. Beshear's low population growth estimates result in a cut of more than $50 million to that funding formula.

Nice try, Stevie.

The situation here is simple, Gov. Beshear is proposing funding cuts to public education while maintaining tax breaks for a fundamentalist Christian amusement park.  In other words, AiG will continue to receive incentives from the state to build their "Fundieland", all at the expense of Kentucky's public education.

I've tried to rationalize what it is that these people are thinking, and there's really only one conclusion I can draw from this situation.  After diverting all this money and state resources to Fundieland, the state of Kentucky was forced to cut funding for public education - especially higher education.  Think about it... Anyone with greater than a 6th grade education would laugh uncontrollably at the idea of a global flood, and then lose all bladder control at the idea of building an amusement park based on a guy that saved every air-breathing animal on the planet by building a wooden boat.

Abusive VA Nurse Forced To Retire

First, let me take a moment to gloat and say, "I told you so!"

Many of you know that I have an "insider" at the VA that lets me know when something newsworthy happens. Last Friday I heard through the grapevine that Lincy Pandithurai sent out an email to the staff in the VA Mental Health Services division that she would be retiring, and January 20th would be her last day.

Frankly, I was tickled to hear this news, because in my pessimism I suspected the hospital's investigation might drag on for months.  To my surprise it didn't, and the VA made an example out of Pandithurai by giving her the opportunity to retire rather than outright firing her.  No matter what though, we can be assured that she would no longer be an employee of the federal government.  And if anyone deserved to lose her job, it was Ms. Pandithurai.

Your retirement couldn't come soon enough if your idea of treatment for depression is telling a Marine that the reason for her condition is that:
"... you feel the darkness surrounding you, and you feel guilty about being a homosexual and living in sin."
Seriously, "darkness"???  Is this woman treating a mental patient with diagnosis of, "dark spirits"?  What's next, bloodletting and a few leeches to help draw out the darkness?

It gets better.  Here's Ms. Pandithurai - A NURSE - giving her thoughts on the current diagnostic tools used by mental health professionals:
"Homosexuality used to be a diagnosis until recently, but they changed it because of Obama."
The seventh edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1974.  Obama was 13.

Oh, and Mr. Pandithurai, do you remember this?
"Trust me, she (Lincy) wants to talk, but we have to check with our lawyer.  This didn't happen the way it's been described."  

I don't mean to lecture the Pandithurai's with this post, but since the Dallas Observer cites an email stating that the Administrative Investigation Board of the VA Medical Center was, "... able to substantiate material portions of the veteran's claims."  Then yes, Mr. Pandithurai, it certainly DID.

You, madam, no longer get to play the victim in this story.  Your malpractice and bold fabrications have finally caught up to you.  You even played your hand at character assassination by lying through your teeth to the media.  It didn't happen the way it's been described?  The hell it didn't.

The "healing services" of your supernatural being will no longer be required in the future of our society.

Good riddance.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Choices on Evolution

While reading the NPR website, I noticed that the subject of "belief" in the Theory of Evolution resurfaced in a blog on their front page.  Blogs like this rarely shock me since living in North Texas has made me callous toward the programmed response of those that consider themselves religious.  Many people here are so scientifically illiterate, that you can't even have an adult conversation about topics in Biology or Chemistry without the discussion devolving (pardon the pun) into a human reenactment of the three wise monkeys.  In other words, if you want to watch a normal, functioning adult turn into a rage comic, just mention Evolution around religious people in North Texas.

But if there's one thing that really gets my mind churning, it's the question asked by the NPR blogger: "Why Do So Many Have Trouble With Evolution?"  Thus, in an attempt to keep myself focused on the subjects about which I'm deeply passionate, I've decided to hop on the bandwagon and put in my two cents.

The blogger references a poll that was done by Gallup in 2009 which demonstrates a link between a low education level, or a consistent attendance in church, and rejection of the Theory of Evolution.  I remember the poll simply because it provided evidence for something that most people in the South with a background in science already knew.

Most undereducated people are staunchly religious, and thus are immediately opposed to the Theory of Evolution.  This makes perfect sense to me because the less a person understands about the world around them, the more likely they are to believe the fairy tales from an educated and charismatic religious leader.  (I mean, they have had a couple thousand years or so to perfect their story to make it believable.)  Now, when dealing with people that are educated, those that remain opposed to the Theory of Evolution generally have no background in science, and they are active members of a church.  Again, even an educated person may not know or understand the mountain of evidence in favor of Darwin.  But that's not necessarily the issue here.

You see, religious people with enough education to understand the implications of the Theory of Evolution are forced to make a choice.  If their god didn't create a man and a woman in our current form, then that means they never sinned against god (no original sin), then there's no reason for a sacrifice (no baby Jesus), and suddenly... they don't know how to handle themselves as they watch religion fall to ashes.  So what does this person do?  Do they study more, do they simply ignore it, or do they double down?

Now I'm not talking about those people that come back with ignorant comments like, "I ain't come from no monkeys."  These people are puppets for their Pastor and simply do not have the faculties to understand the significance of Darwin.  I'm talking about the religious and educated apologists that say things like, "That story in the Bible is just a metaphor..." or, "Why couldn't god have used evolution after creating the universe?"

Frankly, I don't think for a second that moderately bright, educated, religious apologists have a hard time with Darwin at all.   Why do people have a hard time with Evolution?  Because they understand that if the Bible is wrong about Adam and Eve, then everything surrounding their iconic symbol of sacrifice is nothing but fantasy. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Idiots and Thugs

Various members of my family have very recently asked me why I have started blogging, and in particular, why my blog is primarily focused on religion.  More importantly to them, of course, is why I have become so outspoken against religion.  In thinking about how to respond, it just so happened that two excellent examples fell into my lap today.

First, there's this article by Washington Post writer Jay Mathews.  After he backhandedly endorses Rick Santorum (don't giggle), he goes on to suggest that high school science classes should be encouraging, "a discussion of alternatives to evolutionary theory."  His words, not mine.

That's correct, folks.  Alternatives.  I don't know if you realize this, Mr. Mathews, but there were alternative hypotheses to Darwin's grand idea.  And each of these has been summarily refuted over the 150 YEARS since the publication of, "On the Origin of Species".  So there's that...

But just so we're clear: this man says that he wants high school students to do what past biologists, who dedicated their entire careers to a particular field of study, failed to do since 1859.  He wants relatively young students at the beginning of their academic awakening to debate the  the vast amount of evidence for the Theory of Evolution.  Tell me, Mr. Mathews, should these students also tackle the Theory of Gravity, Germ Theory, and Quantum Theory as well?  Besides, how does one falsify the hypothesis that, "We don't know, therefore god did it?"  And how does one experiment upon the scientific validity of throwing up your hands and quitting?

Mathews goes on:
"Teaching all sides of the evolution issue is supported in opinion polls. But those against it feel more strongly. When I suggested in 2005 that high school biology teaching would be improved by allowing students to debate Darwinism vs. the intelligent design theory, I received more than 400 e-mails. Seventy percent of them said I was an idiot. Many added that I was a dangerous idiot."
First of all, it's not "Darwinism" and I believe that he knows full well that in most cases this is meant as a derogatory term.  And second, there's no such thing as, "intelligent design theory" in the realm of scientific terminology.  But then again, if Mathews wasn't so bored as he claims to have been in his science class, he would already know that.

So yes, Mr. Mathews.  Like so many emails told you before, you're an idiot.  A very dangerous idiot that doesn't even have the decency or maturity to educate himself.  Shame on you.  You're an embarrassment to the achievements of humanity.

*** UPDATE:  Right wing politicians in Missouri have introduced a bill to force science teachers to cover "intelligent design".

Now, on to my second reason.  A high school student by the name of of Jessica Ahlquist recently won a lawsuit against the Cranston High School West in Rhode Island.  If you haven't heard the story, the school auditorium has a prayer mural on display that is most assuredly a Christian prayer.  Jessica stood up for our Constitution - at the ripe young age of 15 - by suing the school to have the mural removed... and won.

If you want examples of Christian ethics, morality, love and tolerance, try reading the comments in the article I linked above.  The comments left by the religious people are heinous and barbaric - not to mention point to a tendency toward anti-social behavior.  And if you really want to delve into the instability of a brainwashed mind, try reading her twitter feed (@jessicaahlquist).  It's disgusting.  This is a teenage girl that had the courage to stand up for the Constitution of the United States, yet adults all over the U.S. find no problem in threatening her with message after message of despicable violence.

*** UPDATE:  Here's another blog that has captured several screenshots of these people in action.

So, why have I decided to get myself involved?  Quite simply, the reason I've joined the movement is because if we don't speak up in opposition to religious movements like these, then the fundamentalists that support them will someday change the law to do what's traditional and popular, not what's right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Compulsory Texas Sonograms

One more strike against the freedom of women.

Today, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the ban on the Texas sonogram law.  This means that a woman seeking an abortion will first be forced to watch an ultrasound of the fetus; second be forced to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus; and third be forced to sit through a state mandated soliloquy delivered by the physician who will detail the expected physical characteristics of a fetus.  Not necessarily her fetus, mind you, because modern sonograms can't even reliably distinguish the sex of the fetus at 12 weeks, much less show fingernails.  Oh, after the lecture is over, the woman must wait at least 24 hours before she can receive the procedure.

All of this, I suppose, is meant to appeal to the, "maternal instincts" of a woman who, after seeing the fuzzy image of a fetus and hearing the throaty heartbeat on a fetal Doppler, will more likely reconsider her decision to abort the pregnancy.  But I really doubt it.  What's more likely to me is that the Texas state legislators found an easy way to harass and embarrass lower income women by making them stretch a 3 to 5 hour procedure over 48 hours.  That means two days away from work, rather than one.  Nice touch.

Of course, Rick Perry was thrilled.  That is, until his election numbers came in from the New Hampshire primary.

It staggers me how those that evangelize about how completely out of control the government of the United States has become, would suddenly do an about-face and support a law that will pervade the privacy between doctor and patient.  Then again, these are the people that maniacally support the death penalty while referring to themselves as "pro-life".  So, I suppose they'll agree to anything as long as they can turn doctors into mouthpieces for their political agenda.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Exploiting Death: Fanatics Cut From the Same Cloth

The Texas Freedom Network bought up a very good point on their website about a particular modus operandi used by a good number of conservatives and/or fundamentalists.  There are a multitude of examples of these types of people; those who have absolutely no shame in exploiting a family's tragedy - in particular the death of a child/teen - in order to push a particular political or religious agenda.

The Texas Freedom Network found the latest example of this type of behavior in Peggy Venable, who is the director of the Texas branch of the Americans for Prosperity (as noted on the TFN site, this organization is funded by the Koch Brothers).

Here's a screenshot of the tweet:

Just to be clear, Ms. Venable wishes the state of Texas to adopt "school choice" (another term for school vouchers) because someone's son was shot and killed by police officers in the halls of a public school.  She recognized a morbid opportunity to advertise her group's advocacy of taking billions of dollars of taxpayer money from public schools to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools in Texas - as if these two issues were even remotely related!

Are you disgusted yet?  You should be.  This woman doesn't even so much as blink as she exploits the horrific death of a 14 year-old child.

I think we've all seen this before, though.  One recent example is here, where an entire church congregation centers their whole year on exploiting teens with scenes of grisly deaths.  Then this guy, who couldn't answer a simple question about the morality of using imaginary production numbers as a recruiting instrument, without instinctively retreating to examples of young people he knew personally that had died painful deaths.

I'm holding out hope that someday in the not too distant future, the kind of cold, manipulative thinking like Ms. Venable will demand a psychiatric diagnosis and a subsequent prescription.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Anti-Evolution Thugs Try Again in Indiana

Here we go again.

An Indiana State Senator named Dennis Kruse (Republican - as if you couldn't figure that out on your own) filed Senate Bill 89 in both the Senate and the Committee on Education and Career Development, which states the following:
"Sec. 18. The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation."
In other words, since he and his religious thugs have absolutely no evidence of a supernatural creation, they decide instead to impose themselves on classrooms by using the government of the State of Indiana.  For a group that preaches small government, they sure put a lot of effort into doing the exact opposite.

Kruse's career seems to be littered with this kind of nonsense.  According to the National Center for Science Education, while Senator Kruse was serving as a State Representative in 1999, he pledged to introduce a law that removes the Theory of Evolution from the state's science standards.  And true to his word, he tried House Bill 1356 in 2000 and House Bill 1323 in 2001.  Neither of these bills made it out of committee of course, but Kruse has decided to maintain his commitment to the cause by submitting the exact same bill to the Senate without so much as a change in wording.

I simply do not understand the anti-intellectual mentality of the religious right.  If there was any evidence for your biblical fairy tale whatsoever, scientists would have no problem at all including it in a high school science book.  Thus, you shouldn't need to pass a law to have your myth of the origin of life included in a textbook.  If you provide the evidence, then it should be able to stand on it's own merit.

Plus, it's bad enough that there are adults that lack the maturity to go research the science themselves, but to have people that center their collective careers on making our nation's children live in forced ignorance... THAT'S what should be against the law.

Finally, as much as I agree with the thought that this kind of legislation breaches the Constitution, that shouldn't even matter.  Why?  Because there is no such thing as creation science!  It makes me nauseous to think that religious fundamentalists have been saying this catchphrase for so long that it's starting to leak into everyday jargon.  "Creation Science" is the very definition of an oxymoron, and it shouldn't even need to be used when refuting these idiotic lawmakers that are trying to force their religious dogma on their constituency.

*** UPDATE:  Politicians in Missouri have introduced House Bill 1227 that would require, "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Maturing Beyond The Bogeyman

I heard a relatively interesting remark from a coworker yesterday that's had me considering questions about why people believe in spirits, ghosts, poltergeists, demons, imps, or any other examples of non-corporeal manifestations for that matter.  Let's begin by looking at what my coworker said:
"My father was a mortician, and when I was a teenager I rode with him in a hearse for 2 hours with a dead body in the back.  I was creeped out the entire time.  I've never prayed that long in my life."
Maybe I could understand this a bit more if, for example, a person becomes painfully uncomfortable by sitting so close to a dead body.  Personally, I am not bothered by this at all; but from what I hear there are those that consider a corpse so repulsive that they simply can't stomach it.  I can relate to that, I suppose.  What I can't comprehend about the thought above is that you're, "creeped out" to the point where you feel you need to disassociate yourself into a two hour state of prayer in order to cope.

What are you so afraid of that you, as an adult, are still reduced to essentially an 8 year-old child praying for protection from an imagined bogeyman in the back of your car?  I would think a commitment to prayer of this length would be better spent begging your god for protection from the other assholes out on the road!

Then it occurred to me that if I lead a fledgling religious organization, this guy's view of the world would be exactly what I would strive for.  I would want to gather followers that are relatively young, perhaps early teens up until their early twenties.  I would also insist that they are exposed only to information that I provide.  I would then strive to maintain in my followers a constant sense of fear in otherworldly beings that they could never completely refute.  (I'd have to be clever since young people sometimes ask a lot of questions.)  This way, I could utilize the power of the human imagination to create fear - a fear of an evil and powerful creature (or creatures) born purely from my inventiveness - to control them.  Just as long as I am charismatic enough, I could even exploit human tragedy as an example of this evil.  This would simply require patience on my part.  And if some of my followers became skeptical, I could even go so far as to cause a few "mishaps"... so long as I diligently cover my tracks.

This fictional self-characterization assumes that I'm a sociopath, of course.  But it's not too far of a stretch to imagine how manageable it could be to get teens and young adults to believe the most outlandish of ideas, is it?

Thus, after thinking about my coworker's comment for a bit, I'm convinced more than ever that churches in the US, and most modern religions for that matter, are really nothing more than over-achieving psychic parlors gone berserk.  And we should be ashamed we've let it go on for this long.

It's high time our society abandons the embrace of childish notions of ethereal evils and matures to the point where other adults are not expected to casually relate to thoughts and statements of imaginary enemies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Researching The Real Deal on Facebook?

Just yesterday I made my unofficial return to Facebook and already I've found it helpful to one of my recent causes.  It seems that the "good" people at, "The Real Deal of Saline County" have been ignoring my requests for information, while they offer it freely on their Facebook page.  HMPH!

Check it out:

First, I have to say this: Evan Witt is the shit!  Dude got more than I did.  Nice work, hoss.  (You're welcome on the new nickname, by the way.)

Okay, I should admit something else.  As if these guys didn't already give me enough to whine about, now I'm feeling shunned.  Sure, I got an email, but it was a very poor effort if you ask me.  So, after I read this excuse for a source, I decided to dig a little deeper since now I have somewhat of an idea what I'm looking for.  After a few minutes of searching for "Abstinence By Choice", here's what I found on the site:

Abstinence By Choice
State: Arkansas
Study: Weed, S.E. (2001, October 15). Title V abstinence education programs: Phase I interim evaluation report to Arkansas Department of Health. Salt Lake City: Institute for Research and Evaluation.
Statistically Significant Results: 5.9 percent of eighth grade program girls had initiated sexual activity compared with a 10.2 comparison rate. Among eighth grade boy participants, 15.8 percent had initiated sexual activity, compared with 22.8 percent for comparison rate boys. Program effects in reducing the onset of sexual activity were significant at the 98 percent confidence level.

Note: This is copied directly from the website.

So, their numbers match what another website claims.  And that's the very thing that bothers me the most about these programs.  If you search the web using, "Phase I interim evaluation report to Arkansas", this study is quoted on just about every abstinence website.  It's surreal.  We have ONE guy, at ONE "institute", that has apparently cornered the market on very small scale surveys that curiously become madly popular on the web in a few short years.  (Strangely enough, I still have yet to find a copy of this oft cited article.)

Now, I bet you're starting to get a little curious about those "figures" they're talking about, aren't you?  Well, after digging a bit, I found something of an answer (if you can call it that).  And no, it doesn't appear that it was from, "surveys that were done by them."  In fact, if you'll refer to the citation above, those numbers refer to an INTERIM evaluation conducted by a man by the name of Stan E. Weed (PhD).  From what I can tell, this guy works in Utah, not Arkansas.  Also, his "Institute of Research and Evaluation" has, according to their website, downsized and is now focused on their proprietary AEGIS character education program.

Finally, here's the citation that I can't seem to get anyone at the Real Deal to provide:
Stan E. Weed, Title V Abstinence Education Programs: Phase I Interim Evaluation Report to Arkansas Department of Health, Institute for Research and Evaluation, October 15, 2001
 See?  How hard was that?  Now, if I could only get my hands on that survey Dr. Weed conducted...