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Friday the 13th drug overdose January 13, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Humor.
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7 comments

We had a perfect confluence of luck happen today, appropriate for Friday the 13th.  Not for us, though.  For our black cat.

My spouse called me at work: “The catnip wasn’t sealed!  I just knocked it over!”  About 1/4 cup had spilled onto the floor.  He got most of it up, but not before our Regulus had discovered that a massive overdose of his favorite drug was right in a perfect spot to roll in it.

regulus-and-the-catnip-spill

See how his eyes look like they are vibrating?  He’s stoned out of his mind here.  Some cats don’t care for nip, but our kitty is a nip fiend.

When he gets a noseful of the stuff, he forgets how gravity works.  He’s fine now, as far as we can tell.

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I can’t even November 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
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12 comments

hopedemotivator

I just don’t have anything else right now.

DIY Halloween – Spoopy update October 31, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Crafts, Events.
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13 comments

Remember back when I made realistic eyeballs as a project for Halloween? Tonight the end product came together, and I’m very pleased with how it came out.  And I had promised to post pictures if it was OK, so here they are.

Here’s the pumpkin as I’m finishing it up.  I put ten of the eyes in, and then I was tired of cutting eyeholes so I stopped.  I used bent pieces of wire to anchor the eyeballs in place from behind.  Instead of cutting a big hole in the top of the pumpkin, I opened it up from the bottom.  This leaves the top looking very nice, and also lets me set the pumpkin down over the light source, instead of trying to get a light to sit nicely in the bottom of the pumpkin.

eyeball-pumpkin-finished

Here’s the final result on the stoop in daylight:

eyeball-pumpkin-on-stoop

Since the top is closed, and all the openings are blocked up, a candle really wouldn’t work in this, because it couldn’t get any air. But a small LED flashlight worked just fine, stuck into a little modeling clay to stabilize it.

And here it is all lit up after dark.

eyeball-pumpkin-closeup-in-the-dark

This turned out pretty much just like I wanted it to.  I’ll keep the eyeballs to use again, and next year figure out some further elaborations for this.

Funeral update October 20, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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18 comments

Well, I went to the funeral for my friend.  And it was pretty much like I expected.

First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:

  • There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
  • There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
  • There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
  • There was a crowd of more than 600 people.  The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
  • My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
  • There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.

But.

The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him.  The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god.  Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor.  I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.

But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.

The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon.  It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy.  Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus.   OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.  But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend.  My friend who died in a pointless accident.  My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years.  I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens.  You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.

But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better.  On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:

I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family.  So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.

Funeral frustrations October 11, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants.
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19 comments

Most of the time, I can arrange my life so I don’t have to have much contact with religion.  Sure I sing with a chorus that sings music with religious texts, but I can appreciate the artistic quality, and try to ignore the words as much as possible.  But other than that, I’ve managed to exclude the religious practices and expectations of others pretty well from my day-to-day existence.

Except.

Earlier this month, a good friend from my chorus died in a pointless accident.  You know how, in most organizations, 10% of the people do 90% of the work?  He was one of those 10% and then some.  He was a stalwart member of the chorus, not only singing, but taking on more responsibilities than anybody else, and holding a really important position in the organization.  He always went above and beyond, was always positive and cheerful, and I will miss him terribly.

The funeral is Friday.

It’s Methodist.  His wife is the pastor.

AAARGH.  I’m already hearing the religious platitudes about “He’s looking down at us” and such being thrown about.  Going to listen to an extended session of “he’s in a better place” and “god has a plan” and all the other religious tripe that people say is not how I want to be spending an afternoon.  That’s not how I cope with loss.  Instead of grieving, at the funeral I would be trying to keep my mouth shut, and finding a way not to be rude or roll my eyes when the crowd around me is playing their pretendy-game that he’s in heaven and they will see him again.  My friend is gone, really gone, when he should have had at least another twenty years ahead  of him.  This completely sucks.  They get to be honest, but I don’t, because if I say what I really think I’ll offend someone, and a funeral is not the appropriate time to be doing that.  If I go I have to be fake and polite.  Sheesh.

There’s no point in my going for my own benefit.  There’s no point in my going for my friend’s benefit, he’s dead and so has no opinion on this.  There’s no point in my going for his family’s benefit, because I don’t know them and they don’t know me.

But-

As someone who has also held major positions in the chorus in the past, there’s an expectation that I’ll be there.  The director, the other past and present officers, and the chorus members are expecting me to be there.  It’s part of the solidarity needed to keep the chorus functioning through this.  I don’t need to be there for me, but they need me to be there for them, so I can’t not go.

The chorus has been invited to sing.  If I go, I can’t not sing.

So there I’ll be, the atheist in the choir loft.   Crap.

Happy Blasphemy! September 30, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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12 comments

blasphemy-day

It’s Blasphemy Rights Day!

In appreciation for living in a country where it’s (currently) not illegal to say bad things about people’s beliefs, I’d like to state the following:

Islam is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones.  People who follow it should quit.

Christianity is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Judaism is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Same for Scientology, Hinduism, Mormonism, and most other isms out there.  Stop giving these organizations your money.  Stop doing what their self-appointed holy men tell you to do.

worst-kite-ever

And now, to make sure I have offended everybody:

Professional sports aren’t really important, and we spend too much money on them.

The Battlestar Galactica reboot could have used better writers.  So could Lost.

Beer is gross.  So is champagne.  So is coffee.

“Sherlock” is only just OK, and doesn’t compare to the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.

Did I miss anybody?

jeez-it

Women in Secularism 4, Safe Spaces September 29, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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There were a lot of great talks at WIS4, and again, I’m not going to rehash the details of any of them, because it’s already been done.  For that, remember to go here:

CFI Live Women in Secularism

But there was one panel that I want to discuss at some further length, and that was the one on safe spaces.  The panelists were Maryam Namazie, Melanie Brewster, Sarah Haider, and Diane Burkholder, moderated by Ashley Miller.  Much of the discussion revolved around an incident involving Maryam, where a university talk she was giving was interrupted by a group of noisy male Muslim hecklers who wanted her silenced.  The panel discussion at WIS4 focused around university safe spaces in particular.

Here’s some video of the incident:

The Muslim hecklers complained that she should not be able to speak about how Islam harms women, because the university was a “safe space” for them.   Surprisingly, the administration and several left-leaning student groups that you would think would support freedom of speech sided with the Muslims.

I learned several things about Maryam from the panel discussion.  First, she is very passionate and devoted to the cause of freeing Muslim women from religious oppression, which I admire.  But I also realized that she is probably a very challenging person to work with. Almost every response she gave to the other panelists was “I disagree completely” and she would then make a passionate argument about the question she wanted to answer.  She constantly reiterated that a university is a place to challenge ideas, not protect them, even when that wasn’t the question she had been asked.

But what most frustrated me about the discussion was that people seemed to be talking past each other on different aspects of the issue, without first defining terms so they could make sure they were actually talking about the same things.  So I’d like to spend a little time on definitions, so that if I’m involved in a discussion about these issues in the future, I can refer people back to this post for clarification.

So, considering university “safe spaces” I think the first thing that needs to be discussed is “What do we mean by safe?”

The most obvious part of “safe” is that people at a university should be entitled to personal safety.  Although it’s not happening in practice as much as it should, the ideal is that students should be safe from physical harm on campus.

The next level of safety would be freedom from personal harassment.  Bullying, stalking, threats, sexual harassment, both in person and online, all are things that should be against university rules.   Again, I think this should be obvious.

But now we get to the real question about safe spaces.  What about safety from upsetting ideas, the kind of safety that the Muslims were demanding at Maryam’s talk?  I think for that discussion we need to include a discussion of what we mean by “space”.

Missing from Maryam’s impassioned statements was the fact that a university is not a single “space”, it’s a lot of different spaces.   I think the university “spaces” to be considered would include at least:

  • Private student spaces, like dorm lounges, cafeterias and quiet study spaces
  • Campus organization members only meetings
  • Open outdoor spaces
  • Classrooms
  • Talks from speakers sponsored by campus organizations
  • Talks from speakers sponsored by the administration
  • Publications, such as the student newspaper

I think it’s quite reasonable that a university could have different regulations about what’s OK in each different sort of “space”.  While it might be acceptable for Brother Jed to shout his nonsense out on the quadrangle, the university would be justified from excluding him from a study lounge.  And to complicate this further, I think it’s reasonable to expect that a university supported by government funding would have different standards than a private university.  I would not expect Liberty or Brigham Young Universities to support the same freedom of dissent that a state school should support.  And Maryam’s encounter was at a British University, which is not under the same freedom of speech expectations that US school would have.

So when we discuss the idea of a “safe space” I don’t think it’s clear that universities are, or are not, “safe spaces”.  At a good university there should be times and places where students are exposed to ideas that they may disagree with or find upsetting.  There should be times and places where students can retreat from such challenges.  And the administration should be responsible for setting the standards for what’s allowed in which sort of space, which is no easy task.  (And at private religious universities, the students and their parents may be paying for complete censorship of challenging ideas!)

And I guess my last frustration with the panel discussion was the narrow focus on academia.  While the standards for free speech on campus are important for college students and professors, and college is an important time in the intellectual development of those who can attend, it’s a small fraction of the scope of the total free speech discussion that needs to be held.

Women in Secularism 4 – summaries September 26, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
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WiS4

I’ve just spent a great weekend at Women in Secularism 4, sponsored by CFI.  I took many notes, but I’m not going to try to outline all the points of all the talks there, because it’s already been done!

Paul Fidalgo of The Morning Heresy, liveblogged each speech and panel discussion.  So for good summaries please go here:

CFI Live Women in Secularism

In the coming days I’ll probably put together my thoughts on a few of the themes that were discussed.

 

Nonbeliever LGBT survey August 17, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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As part of a long-term research project, Friendly Atheist has created a survey about the attitudes of the non-religious on LGBT issues.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/17/please-help-us-out-by-taking-this-short-survey-about-atheism-and-lgbt-rights/

If you are non-religious and would like to help them with their research, you can link directly  to the survey here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LGBTatheism

(Hemant asked people to spread the link on their social media, and this is the only social media I use. )

Religion and the Mayor of Fairfax City August 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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Scott SilverthornePeople have mentioned seeing this in the national news, but for me it’s local news.  The Mayor of Fairfax City, Scott Silverthorne, has been arrested in a sting operation for agreeing to give an undercover officer meth in exchange for a gay orgy at a Tysons Corner hotel.  Also arrested were his meth dealer and another “friend”.  He just announced that he’s resigning as Mayor.  No surprise there.

Silverthorne has been through a heck of a lot in recent years.  He lost his day job in 2013, had to file bankruptcy and lost his house to foreclosure in 2015, and also had a bout with squamous cell carcinoma on his neck in 2015.  He’s been elected as Mayor several times (apparently it’s not a full-time job).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/fairfax-city-mayor-arrested-and-charged-in-connection-with-meth-for-sex-scheme/2016/08/05/3f1c2012-5b07-11e6-9767-f6c947fd0cb8_story.html

I have no issues with gay sex parties, other people’s sex lives are really not my business.  But meth?   I wonder if it’s the underlying reason for his job and financial trouble, or his way of trying to cope with it all.

But OK, so a politician gets caught in a sex and drug scandal, we see that a lot.  Usually I would expect that politician to be an evangelical christian Republican, just because that seems to be the normal pattern for this.  So I looked up what his political party is, and he’s an independent.  Hmmm, that’s pretty rare, but OK.

So I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was pretty sure it was coming…

“My faith in God and myself will get me through the biggest challenge of my life. I ask that people keep me in their prayers,” Silverthorne told NBC4

And there it is.

The god who let all that crap happen to him, the god who didn’t give him the strength to say off meth, the god who didn’t send him a vision that a meth-for-sex deal was a really bad idea, that god is going to help him get through this.  Yeah, right.  Good luck with that.  I’m sure all the “thoughts and prayers” that will be coming his way will be really effective, too.

http://patch.com/virginia/centreville/s/fuh4o/report-fairfax-city-mayor-scott-silverthorne-to-resign

(A little background.  Virginia does cities differently than any other state.  Elsewhere, cities are jurisdictions within counties.  Not in Virginia.  Here cities are independent entities.  You can live in a city, or in a county, but not both.  Some of our counties have reorganized into cities, because they like the government structure better.  You’d think Arlington, from its size and urbanization, would be a city, but it’s a county,  and Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, which are both the size of counties, are incorporated as cities.  So even though Fairfax City is entirely surrounded by Fairfax County, and many services are jointly run with the County, the City is not a part of or subordinate to Fairfax County.  It’s a separate, if small, entity. Only about 24,000 people. )