Category: "culture/news"

TMBG @ JJ 2009

Left to right: John Flansburgh and John Linnell

We took Emma and a friend to the 2nd annual Jiggle Jam, a children's music festival headlined by They Might Be Giants. TMBG has been one of my favorite bands for over a decade and it's been great to see them expand into children's music. They've released three records for kids and the music is very good. Our whole family enjoys it. This was my 4th time seeing the band live, Sara's 3rd and Emma's 2nd. They were excellent as always. They even played a song from their next children's album, Here Comes Science, due out in September.

We had a great day. You can see some more pictures here. (I finally got around to updating the theme of my photo gallery to match the rest of my site.)

City council

Tonight I was sworn in as an Adrian city councilman. The mayor resigned a few months ago and one of the aldermen was acting as mayor. The council decided to appoint him as mayor and they needed someone to serve the rest of the alderman's term (about 14 months). I volunteered and the council appointed me. I went to every council meeting for around a year when I was helping out at the newspaper. I got familiar with the issues they were dealing with and became interested in the process.

Adrian is a town of around 2000 people and it's growing at a healthy pace. We're in the middle of building a new water plant. The city also owns a nursing home. This town has always been my home and probably always will be. It's a great place to live. I love it and I want it to succeed. I'm looking forward to serving.

Before you forward that email

SnopesIf you get an email forward that seems too amazing, frightening, sad or heartwarming to be true, it probably is. Before you hit that button to forward the message to your friends, take 60 seconds and type the subject line into Google. You can also throw in a word like "snopes," "hoax" or "chain letter." There's a good chance that the story in the email was made up and you don't want to forward a story that claims to be true but isn't, do you?

There are several sites dedicated to debunking fictional chain letters and other internet rumors. If you run a Google search about the email, one of these sites is often the number one result.

snopes.com

chainletters.net

breakthechain.org

Don't believe everything you read.

Immigration and Thanksgiving

(via TruthDig)

Atheists Are People Too

Discrimination against atheists is one of the last types of socially acceptable discrimination. It comes in many forms, the most shocking of which is legal: Some state constitutions attempt to strip atheists of their legal rights. Before I go any further, I would like to make a disclaimer. Though I think discrimination against atheists is real and runs counter to the spirit of our nation, it is nothing compared to what is been faced by black Americans, gay Americans or female Americans at various times in our country's history. It's also different because we choose it (unlike race, gender and sexual orientation) and we choose how public to make it. If I wanted to, I could present myself as a nominal Christian or I could choose to not discuss religion at all. But if a person decides that they don't believe in any invisible, undetectable deities and they make this unbelief known, they will find that they are often the odd man out.

Although the U.S. Constitution forbids religious tests for any federal office in Article VI, section 3, several state constitutions create just such a test. The following states require belief in God to serve in public office: Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Two states (Arkansas and Maryland) require belief in God in order to testify as a witness in court. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 (Torcasa v. Watkins) that all of those tests are unconstitutional, but the laws mentioned above are still on the books.

In the minds of many voters, there remains a de facto religious test for public office. Several studies have found that, all other things being equal, voters are less likely to vote for an atheist candidate than (in order) a homosexual, 72-year-old, thrice married, Mormon, Hispanic, female, Jewish, black or Catholic (Gallup). In that study, atheists were the only group that more than 50% of the respondents wouldn't vote for. This study was one of the reasons that I ended up not running for state representative when I was asked this spring.

Where are people getting the idea that a person is unfit for public office just because they don't believe in an ancient tribal god? How about their pastors, a President and the Bible. Pastor Rick Warren, days after hosting both presidential candidates at his church, said he would never vote for an atheist. George H.W. Bush (41) said that he didn't think atheists should be considered citizens. The Bible says that people who deny that Jesus is Christ are antichrists. I doubt that many Christians who believe in the Bible would vote for a person who they consider to be an antichrist.

It's not just in the political arena where atheists are at a disadvantage. When I started a new job this spring with a web development company my boss found my website and asked me to never link to the company site or any client sites because they might find out that an atheist is working for him. While I think it's sad that I can't link to projects that I'm proud of, I don't hold it against my boss. It's not his fault that he could lose business because of my beliefs. I might do the same thing if I was in his position. I only wish that non-belief didn't turn a person into a pariah.

I've also found that some from my old church are no longer interested in being my friend and they don't return my emails. I'm sure I share part of the blame for that because I've been so vocal about my loss of faith and the problems I see in religion. Perhaps if I kept quiet about it they wouldn't shun me. But I've heard many of these people say that atheists are going to be tortured for eternity in Hell, so I'm not the only one criticizing. I do regret some of the things I've said about religious people and I intend to be more considerate in the future. I will continue to discuss religion, but I'll try focus my attacks on ideas, not people.

Pete StarkThere are signs that things are getting better. While the world celebrated the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American President, another milestone was quietly reached out west. Pete Stark of California became the first openly atheist person to be elected to the U.S. Congress. There have already been female, black, gay, Jewish and Muslim people elected to Congress. Another bright spot was in North Carolina where incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole attacked challenger Kay Hagan for associating with atheists. Dole's attack fell flat and she lost, in part because Hagan returned fire, calling Dole a liar and affirming the fact that she is a Christian. I'd like to think that Hagan also won because voters rejected the idea that atheism is evil, but I'm not too sure.

If you are a non-religious person, what has your experience been? Do you keep it quiet? Has it affected your relationships or career? Do you think things are getting better? What can we do to improve our status in this country?

Pro-life and Pro-Obama

This week my six year old daughter came home from school and said that a boy in her class told her that Barack Obama wants to kill babies. We explained to Emma that this was not true. No one wants to see more abortions being performed.

For too long, the Republican Party has used this issue to divide America and convince millions of people that they can never vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on this one issue. Many people have already made the case that it is possible to be pro-life and pro-Obama. Here are a few:

Frank Schaeffer - His father, Francis Schaeffer, played a big role in turning this into one of the central political and religious issues of the last three decades. Frank is still pro-life, but he supports Obama.

Douglas W. Kmiec - Kmiec worked in the Ronald Reagan White House, is a prominent Catholic and supports Barack Obama. His site lists some very important facts about abortion and the best ways to prevent it.

Nicholas P. Cafardi - A pro-life Catholic scholar who supports Obama.

Kyle Sterup - Kyle is a friend of mine from college and he is one of the most insightful Christians I know. He is pro-life and supports Obama.

So, if you like Obama but are not sure if you can vote for a candidate who wants to preserve the legality of abortion, the people I listed above (and many more) think you can. Read their words and see if you agree with them.

Here are a few observations that are shaping the way I think about this issue:

Abortion is just one issue. Even if it is a very important issue, should it override your agreement with Obama on several other issues?

I voted for George Bush in 2000 based mostly on my desire to see abortion outlawed. After eight years, two wars, a crippled economy, the erosion of our civil liberties and a drastic reduction in the public's trust of their government, abortion is still legal. How long will the Republican Party be given carte blanche by single issue voters?

The goal of the pro-life movement is to have Roe v. Wade overturned. Would that the end abortions in the United States? It would not. The issue would be left up to the states. By one estimate, only 16 states would outlaw abortion. Legal abortions would still be available to people who live in the other 34 states or who are able to travel. Let me say that again: Overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America.

Even when abortion was illegal, women still had them. These illegal back alley abortions were often unsafe and led to fatal infections.

If you really want to prevent abortions, outlawing them is not the best method. The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancies. Accurate sex education and available contraceptives do more to prevent abortions than the Supreme Court ever could.

Another way to prevent abortions is to reduce poverty. Study after study has shown that economic support significantly reduces the abortion rate. Obama's plan to help our nation's uninsured get health care will do more to prevent abortions than any of George Bush's policies have.

Much is made of the late-term procedure known as the partial birth abortion. This is a very rare procedure which accounts for 0.17% of the abortions performed in the United States. As he said in the last debate, Obama is in favor of banning the procedure as long as the law includes an exception for the life and health of the mother. A ban that did not include that exception would in some cases amount to a death sentence for both mother and child.

I understand that many people on both sides of the abortion issue feel very strongly about their opinion. Both sides should bear in mind that this is a very difficult issue. There is no clear answer to the question of when life begins. Science has not provided the answer. The Bible gives no clear teaching on the question. Religious leaders are divided. Ethicists are divided. The public is divided. We should all be careful of becoming so convinced that our position is right that we are willing to demonize those who disagree with us and ignore all other issues.

I do not agree with Barack Obama on every issue, but I do believe that he is the best person to lead our nation in these difficult times. Even if you disagree with his stance on the legality of abortion, I hope you will think about the best way to reduce abortions and about all the other issues that are facing our nation.

Short survey

I like running polls on my blog, but sometimes I want to ask several questions and see how the answers relate to each other. So, I'm trying out a service that allows me to do that. I started with a short survey about health care and education. It's only 3 questions. I hope you can take a moment to complete it: http://www.polldaddy.com/s/09617AAD67FCD274/

Uh, what?

Two of these videos are beauty pageant contestants trying their best to form coherent sentences. The other is a parody. I'm not sure which is which.

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Palin's Pastor Problem

Would Sarah Palin bring back witch hunts?

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Nice line

Barack Obama: If you think those lobbyists are working day and night for John McCain just to put themselves out of business, well, then, I've got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.

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That's a hell of a good line. Some speechwriter deserves a pay raise for that.

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