Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Penn Jillette's God, No! is hit and miss

I wasn't expecting the pure reason of Richard Dawkins or the elegant, staggeringly beautiful prose of Christopher Hitchens when I picked up this book. That was kind of the initial attraction, actually. I was hoping for a discussion of atheism and religion that was a bit more earthy and geared toward the layman than either of those two gentlemen are known for, and Penn Jillette seemed to fit the bill. God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales is not an imposing book as it comes in at a modest 230 pages, so I figured it for some fluff reading. If it wasn't great, no big deal.

Yep, it was no big deal.

The first half of the book is okay. Jillette rambles from anecdote to anecdote, many of which either only touch marginally on religion or not at all. Though being pedaled directly toward that atheist and skeptically curious crowd, the subtitle does say it also contains "Other Magical Tales," so the case for bait-and-switch would be difficult to pin on him. My biggest complaint is how the back half of the book is so loaded with his libertarian drivel. Now, anyone who knows enough about Jillette to want to pick up a book by him will also know he's a rabid libertarian, and I would have had to be stupid to have assumed he'd be able to make it through the book without it cropping up in a number of places. I was prepared for his incessant use of the phrase "The Free Market of Ideas" throughout, so I breezed right by them, and some of his comments made me laugh out loud (He states "Now, I love Ayn Rand as much as the next guy..." and I snorted as I thought that if the "next guy" is me, I can guarantee he loves her a HELL of a lot more), but I guess I was naive enough to think he might be able to get through the book without dedicating good chunks or the entirety of chapters to espousing his hatred of government, public schooling, and liberals in general. He uses some choice profanities to describe the Far Right as well, but his contempt for the left is far more lovingly nurtured here.

Even that I could breeze through if it weren't for the fact he is so terrible inconsistent in his view, even is the sparse 230 pages of the book. In the first part of the book, he gives an anecdote on how he proudly lied to his parents to get them to take money from him so they wouldn't have to go to a nursing home. He supposedly threatened a nurse with physical violence if she didn't tell his parents that they were allowed to stay in their home because of state moneys. They accepted this because they were too proud to take money from their rich son.

Wait, doesn't Penn say throughout the book that he got his rigid self-reliant attitude from his folks? Yet, they'll take tax dollars to stay at home rather than from him?

And he's cool with that?

Later in the book he states that the ends never justify the means. Never. How does he reconcile both the lie and the threat to the nurse?

Even when I agree with him on an initial point, he takes it over the line to a place I just can't follow. I agree with him that security at airports is a joke, and the inconvenience it causes is pointless because no one is made more secure. I agree that it is a serious infringement on civil rights.

We're good to that point.

But the solutions he comes up with range from being just as infringing to being simple, outright lunacy. One might argue that he's a comedian, and he's simply trying to be funny is manner of Jonathan Swift. If so, he fails utterly. Swift brought a white hot focus on the problems he was mocking with his words. He could take an existing concern and stretch and enlarge it until its flaws are evident from outer space. Penn simply comes up with alternatives that sound like they were thought up by two stoners in the back of a van. Nothing in this book even approaches what I would call satire. It's just dumb if he only wants it to be thought of as funny, and if wants it in any way to be taken seriously, it's just plain insane.

There are points that I really, really enjoyed in the book. Penn comes across as a completely honest asshole, and I think he'd be happy to read me use that description. He's a snake and a cheat, but only when he feels the rules allow it. He cheats fairly. He's also crass, rude, and fairly disgusting, but he comes across as possessing a child's joy of life in his vulgarity. Others may disagree and I'd completely understand, but I find his repulsiveness kind of life affirming.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the book is his story of the Orthodox Jew who'd become an atheist in part because of Penn's influence and came to Vegas to ask him to witness his first bacon cheeseburger. There's a couple more really good stories in here, a lot of filler, and some frothing at the mouth bat-shittery. Whittled down, this would make for a very entertaining booklet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The absolutely most powerful indictment of Scientology yet

You can give data and statistics that show how Scientology is a scam, but you won't find a more powerful, personal illustration of the dishonest, corrupt, and venomous nature of the religion and the man who founded it than to listen to his great grandson.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Video Problems

If some or all of the videos on this site aren't working for you, I'm aware of it. Apparently YouTube made some setting adjustments today, and it threw things off at my (and apparently some other folks') ISP. I would imagine it will sort itself presently.

Update: They appear to be working again. Huzzah!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Pennsylvanian embarrassment

When someone from Pennsylvania (like myself) mocks, say, Texas for some of the politicians like Rick Perry that came out of there, the easiest way to shut us up is say, "Yeah, but your state produced Rick Santorum."

I have no rebuttal for that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PZ Myers DESTROYS intelligent design

PZ Myers debated leading intelligent design proponent Dr. Jerry Bergman some time ago, and now the entire event is available on Youtube.

Funny, when Bergman was talking, I was thinking of all the way I would counter his arguments.  My thoughts were valid, but the thing I like about Myers is his nonchalant way of dismissing stupidity off hand without a care for diplomacy.  This isn't to say he wasn't eloquent or polite; he simply didn't candy coat his feelings about inane arguments.

Here's the debate in its entirety.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dad's 91st Birthday

Richard Franklin Lane in his Army uniform during World War II.
My dad would have been ninety-one today.

He died four years  and a couple weeks ago, but I don't care about that date.  I remember his birthday because I remember his life.

When he died, Dolores and I had to take care of most of the arrangements.  I'm not the oldest of the siblings, nor was I the executor of the estate, but my sisters all live out out of state, and my brother, though normally an extremely strong man, couldn't really deal with it.  I wrote the obituary, made the funeral arrangements, picked out the casket, gathered the pictures for the funeral, and got a pastor for the service (funerals are for the living, and if my sisters and brother needed a damn pastor to get them through the funeral, they were going to have a damn pastor). Through it all, I was sad, certainly, and I was very thankful that Dolores was next to me throughout, but I had a sense of serenity and calm that at the time I attributed to my not yet accepting he was gone.  It was, after all, a shock when we got the phone call from my sister telling me he was gone.  He hadn't been sick or had any health problems that one wouldn't expect from an eighty seven year old man.  He was eighty seven, however, so it had been a call we'd known we'd be getting sooner or later.  The fact I couldn't must more than a couple of fond sets of tears during the whole process bothered me a bit until I realized the reason.  I really couldn't find any tragedy in the event.

They talk about the "Greatest Generation," but I knew that before Tom Brokaw turned it into a pop sentiment.  Dad was in college in Youngstown when the war broke out, and he tried his damnedest to get into the service.  His eyes were going bad even then, though, and he was rejected.  He even traveled to Canada to try to get into the service there, but he didn't have any luck.  Finally, after what I recall as four attempts, he was allowed in, and he spent the duration as an officer in the Army Air Corps in India.  To him, not serving his country was not an option, and that sense of responsibility and selflessness was something he would instill in us for the rest of his life.

On record, Dad was a Presbyterian, but I can only remember setting foot in any church a handful of times growing up.  Mom was from a devout Catholic family, and she was going against the church by marrying Dad.  When they moved to Pennsylvania, Dad was disgusted by what he viewed to be politics and backbiting in the Presby Church in town at the time, so they just kind of let church going fizzle.  Weddings, baptisms, and funerals were the only reasons I can recall for our visits the entire time I lived at home.  I can't say that my father was a non-believer.  He would probably have said he believed, but he didn't have any time at all for the religious.   In fact, looking back at those years, Christmas was a HUGE part of our year, but it was almost completely secular.  There was a manger under the tree and an angel on top, but the absurd bulk of the decorations my mom put up (starting in early November and not finishing until sometimes Christmas Day itself) were Santas, snowmen, elves, and reindeer.

My dad and mom when he returned home.
I don't know if Dad or Mom would have considered it a good thing, but I owe them quite a bit for not making us adhere to any real belief system.   I don't think it was on purpose though.  Whenever I brought up anything religious to either of my parents, I got a somewhat canned, somewhat uncomfortable answer.  It seemed as though the entire subject bothered them a little, and perhaps there was even a bit of embarrassment about having to talk about it at all.  I certainly may be reading more into it than was there, but to my mind now it seems as though they rationally couldn't reconcile the mythology of religion, but weren't quite ready to admit it to themselves.  I'm okay with that, if it indeed was the case.  It certainly made my ultimate decisions about reality easier to accept.

When All In The Family was a hit show on television, we used to kid that they based Archie Bunker on my father, but really that's not even close to being true.  He was definitely a staunch Republican, and he held some archaic beliefs about race relations, but I never heard him use a racial slur in anger.  About the only time I recall him using the N-word was to defend my grandparents use.  "It was a different time," he'd say.  "Grampy didn't mean 'n-----' in a bad way."  He was  fairly anti-union, but as a business owner with about seventy-five employees at his peak, he was very concerned about his workers' well being and their families.  My brother and I have both had people coming up to us on the street to tell us how they used to work for my dad and that he was the best boss they'd ever had. It took me a long time to realize that not all employers were as just as my father was.  When I did, he and I would argue, and when we did, my kids and the dog would leave the room.  It had a tendency to get loud, and more than once my wife told me that if she closed her eyes, she couldn't tell whose voice was whose.  That used to piss me off, but now I take it as a compliment.  He taught me not to back down...not even to him.
Dad and me.  I'm in front.

Dad had five kids, and he'd lived to see all of them grow, have kids, some grand kids, and even so great grand kids.  He was married for decades to my mom, and when she passed, he was fortunate enough to find another woman to love and cherish for over another decade.  He had a successful career and was able to get out semi-gracefully when the economy turned, giving him the financial freedom to traverse the country and visit his family as he wished.  He was healthy until the day he died.  He even managed to play an exceptional round of golf with friends, ending three under par.  He even went out on a good note on the greens.

I don't believe in Heaven, Hell, or souls, I don't believe I shall ever see my father again.  He's gone. I don't find that depressing at all, though.   He lived, he loved, he fought for what he felt was right, and he had a family, and that's all any of us can really aspire to.

And I'm lucky enough to have had him as my dad.  I can only hope that someday my kids feel the same when I am gone.

Thank you, Dad.  Happy birthday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Google Person Finder for the Japan Earthquake

Google has created a response site that helps people.

If you would like to post this on your own site, you can get it HERE.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

An old SF concept is explored in POWERS

from Powers vol. 3, number 7, ©2011 Jinxworld, Inc.
Powers is a comic you may not have heard of if your tastes run towards more mainstream books.  It deals with a pair of tough, no-nonsense cops in a large city whose job is to investigate crimes involving the large, unbridled population of superheroes and super-villains, "powers," in residence there.  Though many of the characters in the book look like traditional spandex-wearing types in other comics, it has a distinctively more mature bent in both story lines and language.

The creators of the book, Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming,  have explored the conflicts that would arise in a world where some have vast reality bending powers since its inception.  It could be argued that's the overarching theme of the entire run.  The current storyline, however, takes the theme into a straight up exploration of what happens when some of those with god-like powers actually claim to be gods.

from Powers vol. 3, number 7, ©2011 Jinxworld, Inc.
A team of powers calling themselves "The Golden Ones" claim to be gods of legend.  One of their number, Damocles, is murdered in a gruesome manner (standard in this book), forcing detectives Christian Walker, his partner Enki Sunrise, and his former partner-now-FBI agent Deena Pilgrim to interrogate Damocles's teammates.  The other Golden Ones show various degrees of disdain for the mere mortals who scurry around and involve themselves in the affairs of gods.

Meanwhile, the readers get some man-on-the-street perspective of the idea that people claiming divinity are walking or flying among them.  Of particular note is a monologue by a radio commentator who describes how he convinced his small son that he is a superhero, and uses that story as an analogy to explain why he feels it is ridiculous to accept the story that the Golden Ones are gods.

Not a new idea in comics specifically or science fiction in general.  The original Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis?" dealt with it in the late 1960s...

As did Star Trek V: The Final Frontier...

but these always seemed to be half-measures.  They didn't dispute the claim of  the existence of gods, only that these weren't them.  Certainly, this was due to creative interference from the network or studio, as Gene Roddenberry was an outspoken atheist himself, but the messages were watered down, nonetheless.

Powers appears to be taking it a step further in stating that the existence of super humans is indicative of a universe without a god.
from Powers vol. 3, number 7, ©2011 Jinxworld, Inc.

This story still has a ways to go yet, so how this idea plays out is anybody's guess, but I like the frankness of the themes at play so far.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Minchin hits the nail on the head again

Once again, Tim Minchin pulls no punches as he points out the flaws and inconsistencies in apologists' "evidence."

This song apparently was inspired by a confrontation Minchin had with a believer after one of his shows. I have to ask, why would a believer go to a Minchin show in the first place?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Marvel continues to out its heroes as rationalists this month as it comes to light the Incredible Hulk is, in fact, an atheist in his now plurally titled Incredible Hulks #622.

Ironically, this revelation comes courtesy of his battle with the Greek gods.

In the aftermath one of those universe-shattering crossovers that have become so frequent they hardly get mentioned on Twitter in the Marvel Universe these days, Olympus is revitalized and is apparently now standing off the shore of New York City.  The Hulk goes there to demand the gods whom he has helped alleviate the suffering of his newly extended family.  He makes a good showing battling centaurs, cyclopes, medusae, other creatures, and lesser gods.  When he goes up against Zeus, son of Kronos, cloud-gatherer, he who delights in thunder and marshals the thunderheads, he bites off more than he can chew.

After a brief but epic (no pun intended) battle, Hera inspects the battered and all-but-dead Hulk's mind and make an interesting discovery.  "You...Ha...You don't even believe in God," she says.

Let's make that clear.  She doesn't say "gods."  She says "God."  Big G.  Singular, as in monotheism.

Of course, it would be silly to say he doesn't believe in "gods" (little g) when he's getting his green ass handed to him by one, so some might argue this statement doesn't make sense, or it shows the Hulk's irrational side.  But this is the surly, but intelligent Hulk that has been in the spotlight for a number of years now.  He's not as intelligent as his alter ego, Bruce Banner, but he's every bit as rational, and perhaps a bit wilier. While he concedes there are beings who call themselves gods in his world, he realizes there is a total lack of evidence for an omniscient, omnipotent being such as God (big G) is described as being.  In his reality one can punch a god in the nose, and still rationally call himself an atheist.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'm not sure this one's worth fighting

In Chicago, an atheist parent plans of fighting a recent ruling allowing schools to require a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day.

Meh. I'm public high school teacher of seventeen years and an atheist, and I don't feel this is a battle worth fighting.

Is it an attempt to get prayer in school? Almost certainly. Will it fail? Almost certainly. The kids prone to pray will do so, but the rest, including about 95% of those who claim to be theistic, will be going through their mental agenda for the day, thinking about their boyfriend and/or girlfriend­, or pondering other non-religi­ous thoughts. This is a waste of time all around, but it takes about 15 to 30 seconds out of the day.

My school has a moment of silence requiremen­t, and I use it to go over a mental checklist for what I'll be teaching less than a minute later.

The minute any kind of prayer is actually required, I'll be notifying the ACLU, but until then, picking battles wisely is the best course.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here are the best arguments for atheism

For get the "You know it's a myth" billboards.  If you want compelling arguments for why atheism is a better choice in terms of making the world a better place, you need not look any farther than HERE.

Roy Zimmerman on same sex marriage

Truthfully, I have yet to hear a Roy Zimmerman song I don't love.