Sad News of a Longtime Friend

A friend and former neighbor of mine succumbed to lung cancer a couple of days ago. Even though we knew it was coming, it was still a shock. It’s hard to write this post. She was a wonderful woman who raised two daughters and a son, and took in any of their friends that needed a home. She owned a local restaurant and always had a sunny and happy disposition. We lived next door to each other for a couple of years, but kept in touch. We also ate at her restaurant every week or so.

My friend found out she had lung cancer this past February. The growth was small and her doctors thought she had a good chance to beat the cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer was far more aggressive and invasive than they anticipated. She endured chemo and radiation and still the cancer spread. Three weeks ago she fell down some stairs and broke her hip. Her health started failing rapidly and she died a few days ago.

The hubby and myself feel sad that we did not try harder to visit her more. Our friend was a woman who always wanted to appear her best for people and did not want anyone to see her looking so bad. When we would ask about visiting, her daughters would tell us that she would get very upset because she did not want to worry us by looking so bad from the treatments. We were not the only ones who are sad that she did not want many visitors. But all we could do was to respect her wishes. But me and the hubby love to cook, so we would make her favorite desserts and send them to her. It was away to try to reach out to her.

I know that if I found out that I was dying, I would want to spend as much time with the people I care for as I have left. When you are gone, that’s it, you have no other chances to do the things you want to do and see the people you want to see.

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CNN Changing Christian Opinion about Military’s Discrimination Against Atheists

MediaCurves has a video posted where they survey 200 Christians and 100 non-Christians about the story on CNN about Spec Hall’s lawsuit. They show the opinions of the audience while the story is playing. They also survey the audience after the video. It’s interesting to see the Christian’s reactions during the video. They seem to really agree at the beginning that Spec Hall was discriminated against, but don’t seem to have an opinion either way when the details are revealed in the video.

Here are a few interesting survey results:

“Should US Army soldiers be required to pray with their fellow troops regardless of their religious beliefs?”

Before Viewing Video After Viewing Video
Christians Christians
Yes 24% Yes 16%
No 76% No 84%

Non-Christian Non-Christian
Yes 16% Yes 10%
No 84% No 90%

“Do you believe atheists should be in leadership positions in the military?

Before Viewing Video After Viewing Video
Christians Christians
Yes 50% Yes 59%
No 50% No 41%

Non-Christian Non-Christian
Yes 82% Yes 86%
No 18% No 14%

Wow, I never realized that Christians were that biased against atheists. It also shows that a lot of Christians are totally ignorant about atheists. But the survey also shows they are willing to be accepting of atheists if they are shown a positive story. That is a welcome sign.

PZ vs The Catholic League, Part Deux

Simon over at Bloggasm has a good summary of the whole Crackergate affair. To summarize briefly, PZ was receiving death threats from someone at 1-800-Flowers.com, he posted the email with the originating headers, readers dissected the headers and identified one Melanie Kroll, employed at 1-800-Flowers.com. She was then fired, and her husband posted his confession which can be seen at Greg Laden’s blog. Simon’s article has all of the relevant links,so I won’t post them over here.

Newsvine.com also has the story as well. That is where the picture is from.

Simon’s article raised a few interesting points as well.

I asked Laden what his philosophy was on reposting hate mail and whether he believed that Melanie should be fired for sending Myers a death threat. He replied that while he considered it fine for the professor to publish the message he also didn’t think she should have been terminated. Laden argued that if it was true that her husband had sent it from her address without knowing, then the IT department for 1-800 Flowers was as much to blame as anyone else. They should have provided safeguards for this sort of situation, he said, and done more to educate employees on how to avoid it.

But as for his own policy on hate mail, he decided at some point that he would refrain from posting it.

“If you have a disclaimer on your site then you’re free to do whatever you want with an email,” he said. “With my own policy, I decided not to do it. I don’t want to scare people away from sending me email. I have not received any death threats, but in the chance I would, I report them to the IP abuse number or contact the appropriate police authorities. Then it’s up to them to decide whether anything should be done.”

I don’t agree with Greg Laden on Melanie Kroll’s firing. She knew that abusing her mail or letting someone abuse it would get her fired. Especially, a death threat, which is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. A company is not going to let themselves be liable for that. I may surf the web during lunch, but I never post or email personal things from work. It would be too easy to say something that someone in security at work would not like. Our company computer security people can concentrate on those who are down loading porn or emailing racist jokes and not get upset about my atheistic posting.

But this is making me think about my own blog and how I would handle getting a death threat. Blogging is much more independent than posting on a forum. Forums handle their own security and the users have a level of protection built in. Blogs are more independent, though I host on Google and there is some slight risk of someone at Google taking a dislike to my blog and threatening me or removing my blog. But since Google is a public corporation, there is some protection and recourse for threats.

If I receive a threatening email, I plant to contact Google since I use Gmail. I would also investigate the originating headers myself. In a previous job, I did a bit of hacking, testing our systems for my customer. It was one of my favorite and most challenging jobs. If Google were to do nothing, then I would contact law enforcement my self. Once, that was done, I would post the contents of the email for all to see. But I would not post the headers. If I needed help with tracking the email,I would forward it to friends.

I’ve been threatened with death myself, but not via email, but in person. It’s not a pleasant experience, but you have to trust your instincts for what to do. Each situation is different. In my case, directly confronting the person immediately after he made the threat was the best choice for me. He did not expect this and backed down instantly. I let myself get pissed and he saw that. It helped that I had trained in Aikido for several years and he had seen me give a few self defense demonstrations at work. Each case is different, one must be aware of that.

Update:

PZ finally has done what he has threatened to do on his blog. He threw out the wafer in the trash. Check it out.

I love PZ’s concluding paragraph:

“By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity’s knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.”

Hall Story Finally Bubbling up to the MSM

The Jeremy Hall story is finally bubbling up to the mainstream media. About a year ago Spec. Jeremy Hall, a member of MAAF, tried to setup a Freethinkers meetup at his base in Iraq. He had the support of the base chaplain and complied with all applicable regulations. One person who showed up was Maj. Freddy Welborn. Maj.Welborn started yelling at everyone attending and broke up the meeting.

I responded to an email request from MAAF. Spec. Hall was requesting help with his situation. My response at the time was that if he was to precede with a complaint, then go through the official channels. If nothing was done, then if he wanted to continue, then he would probably need to sue in federal court. The odds were also that he would have to watch his back, as he would probably be getting death threats from “Loving Christians.” This is exactly what happened.

I’m glad the story is finally getting aired, but sadly almost a year after the events unfolded. From the CNN story, it seems that Annapolis and West Point are also suffering the same sorts of problems that the Air Force Academy has with overly zealous Christians. For a time my son was interested in the Coast Guard and their academy seems to be free of this problem. I think the Coast Guard leadership is much more level headed.

Update:

It looks like the DoD is trying to claim that Spec. Hall did not go through proper channels. The MRFF has links to the DoD’s Motion to Dismiss and its attachments. But Christ Rhodda says:

But, it is precisely the “pattern and practice” that MRFF is alleging exists throughout the military that would make it unlikely, if not impossible, for a soldier like SPC Hall to successfully pursue a remedy through military channels. MRFF has been contacted by enough service members who have attempted to resolve their complaints through military channels, including the Equality Opportunity (EO) program, to know this. And, since the CNN segment aired last week, dozens of other service members have contacted MRFF with their stories of what happened when they tried to resolve religious issues through their chain of command or the EO program. At best, their complaints were simply ignored; at worst, the service members who complained faced retaliation from both peers and superiors. Many others have been afraid to report these violations at all. This is the very reason that MRFF is turning to the federal courts.

It looks like the lawsuit may be joined by many others in the near future,especially if it looks like Spec. Hall and MRFF may lose. And I’ve heard stories and read a few blogs where service members and former service members have complained of their complaints getting “lost” in the system.

PZ vs The Catholic League

I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of days laughing my ass off over the craziness going on at Pharyngula. Apparently PZ Myers made a few comments here in support of the kid who was getting death threats by some of the more right-wing Catholics. Jerks who are making a big fuss over Webster Cook not swallowing the Eucharist and calling for him to die. Apparently, the Catholic League thinks their beliefs are more important than a kid’s life. So much for “All life is sacred”. Hypocrites. They’re all “Christianity is love.” and “Turn the other cheek.” until they get offended. Then it’s “Kill the little heretic.”

Jokingly, PZ called for people to send him consecrated wafers so that he could have a little fun:

So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare.

From the original news story:

Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn’t eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it.

Catholics worldwide became furious.

Not only furious, but they started sending death threats to the kid.

Webster’s friend, who didn’t want to show his face, said he took the Eucharist, to show him what it meant to Catholics.

Webster gave the wafer back, but the Catholic League, a national watchdog organization for Catholic rights claims that is not enough.

“We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was,” said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. “However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”

We just expect the University to take this seriously,” she added “To send a message to not just Mr. Cook but the whole community that this kind of really complete sacrilege will not be tolerated.”

Webster just wants all of this to go away. Especially now that he feels his life is in danger.

So I guess it’s okay for priests to molest little kids, but it not alright for a kid to take a cracker that was given to him. So these people don’t think twice to threaten a kid over a minor offense. So they hold that the host is sacred, but now they want everyone else to hold it sacred as well. But it’s too bad for them because in the United States, we have the First Amendment to the Constitution.

University officials said, that as for right now, Webster Cook is not in trouble. If anyone or any group wants to file a formal complaint with the University through the student judicial system, they can.

It that happens, Webster will go through a hearing either in front of an administrative panel or a panel of his peers.

Why should this have anything to do with school activities? Church-State separation anyone?

Oh, and after he received the communion wafer he didn’t swallow it and a scuffle ensued:

Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.”When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him,” Cook said. “I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they’d leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth.”A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that’s why he brought it home with him.”She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand,” Cook said, adding she wouldn’t immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.

Despite the headline, Cook never held the communion wafer hostage and gave it back. So what’s all the fuss about? It looks like Cook is getting a real good look at the religion he is a member of. Any bets on how long he remains a member?

Instead of ignoring him like an adult, Bill Donohue started denouncing PZ hysterically and the fun began. Check out the following links, each post has massive amounts of commenting:

Now I’ve got Bill Donohue’s Attention
Fresh Crackers
Fight Back Against Bill Donohue
KPFT Interview
Can This Possibly Get More Insane?
I Get Email – Special Cracker Edition – lots of the hate mail and death threats PZ is receiving.

I think that the Catholic League is starting to realize what pricks they were acting like when they went after Webster Cook and encouraged death threats. Now they are using PZ Myers as a scapegoat and a way of diverting attention to the threats sent to a young college kid.

Here is a little song by Bad Religion that perfectly describes the Catholic League’s actions:

Reasonable Doubts Podcast

I’ve found a very good podcast called Reasonable Doubts. Episode 17 has a very good overview of the problems with church-state separation problems in the US military forces. I’m adding the podcast to my list of podcasts onthe left side of this blog. This episode covers many of the stories of the antics of fundamentalist Christian in the US military forces that I’ve covered in this blog in the past year.

I cover these stories because I’m worried about the influence of these Rapturist Christians in the military. I don’t want these zealots taking over a military with ready access to nuclear weapons. When I entered the US Air Force as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant, I was stationed at Cheyenne Mountain in Missile Warning. This was in the early 1980’s. I heard stories about these types of Christians trying to insert themselves in the Missile squadrons.

I heard that there were officers in the missile silos stating that they would do what they thought their god wanted over what their orders stated. When this was found out by the command structure, these officers were yanked out of the silos. Afterwards there were training classes for commanders. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I was assigned to Missile Warning. I had No Pref as my religious status and on my dog tags. I liked the designation as it showed that my religious preference was None. There would be no worries about me putting my personal religious beliefs over my orders.

I think that this failure of the fundamentalist Christians to start at the bottom with junior officers is the reason why they are focusing so heavily on the senior leadership. It seems they seem to be more successful with the leadership. And some of the current leadership in the Air Force may be some of the surviving fundamentalist junior officers from the 1970’s.

I’m So Embarrassed for My Birthplace

I grew up in Southwest Louisiana and I’m so embarrassed by all of the recent shenanigans being pulled by the state legislature. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has an ongoing series about the ignorant behavior by the state government. The state government has decided to pass Senate Bill 733 into law. Now, any teacher can completely ignore science and reality and teach “alternative” theories for evolution, global warming, geology, cloning, etc. Any half-baked idea can now be taught instead of the science.

Senate Bill 733 is called the “Louisiana Science Education Act”. It should be called the “Louisiana Rectal Extraction Education Act”. This is what the bill allows teachers and students to do. Never mind what the scientists actually say, if it conflicts with someone’s religious views, then they are allowed to make up anything they want as an alternative.

According to the NCSE:

Ars Technica’s John Timmer points out (June 27, 2008), however, that “most observers are expecting the passage of the LSEA by the state to unleash a series of Dover-style cases, as various local boards attempt to discover the edges of what’s constitutionally allowable.” Timmer cites a letter from Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who told Jindal that the bill would “provoke an expensive, divisive legal fight.”

Of course it would, and since a Federal court has already ruled that “Intelligent Design” is simply creationism, and since creationism was ruled a religious teaching by the Supreme Court in 1987, there is no way for the state of Louisiana to avoid expensive lawsuits. Lawsuits they would almost certainly lose.

Local teachers are concerned that the bill could open the door to creationism. As the Lafayette Daily Advertiser put it on June 26, 2008, “The possibility of the introduction of ‘wacko’ theories of the origins of life Carencro High School science teacher Warren Sensat.” Sensat told The Advertiser, “When you open the door to bring in unapproved curriculum, you can bring in some wacko stuff.” Other teachers are less worried. Tim Tate, a science curriculum supervisor for the Lafayette Parish schools told The Advertiser “he’s not worried about teachers using inappropriate materials. He expects teachers to only focus on the state curriculum, but acknowledges that different ideas will always be brought into the classroom.”

Teachers and students who support good science should bring in fringe, off the wall information. Materials that even the fundamentalist Christians object to. This is similar to how the school fliers pushing religion were stopped. It was only after the inclusion of Camp Quest for atheist kids and activities for Pagan kids were included in the backpack program. The Christians were all in a bother over the non-Christian ads and then demanded that all of the ads be stopped. Perhaps teach the “theory” that space aliens started life on earth. That would make the Raelians and Scientologists happy, and completely piss off everyone else including the Fundamentalist Christians. But perhaps this would spur the majority of moderate Christians to then push for good science to be taught instead of allowing nonsense as an “alternative theory”.

According to CUFI, 666=God

There is a series of articles on John Hagee and CUFI over at Talk2Action. I’ve covered the Hitler wannabe, Hagee previously. Now Talk2Action has a post about the fake converted terrorist, Walid Shoebat. Apparently, Shoebat is talking big about being some sort of former terrorist. If this is really true, then why is he not being prosecuted for murders he claims he committed. But it seems that he is scamming the Christians over at CUFI. And the latest is absolutely hilarious. Here are a few excerpt detailing the little scamp’s mischief:

Shoebat also fancies himself as a bit of a Biblical scholar and palaeographer, and in a video clip that I have just been made aware of he expounds his theory that the “Number of the Beast” mentioned in the Book of Revelation is in fact a reference to…Allah.

The argument is that the author of Revelation was shown the Mark of the Beast in “video” form from God – obviously following Hal Lindsey’s idea that the visions in Revelation, rather than being symbolic, in fact are John’s interpretations of images from the future he couldn’t understand (“locusts” being helicopters, and so on). With the Mark of the Beast, John saw some strange squiggles, which he incorporated into the text. For centuries, readers thought these squiggles were the Greek letters for either “666” or “616”, but finally Shoebat has cracked the mystery: the squiggles are in fact Arabic, and they spell out “In the Name of Allah”!

Here is a video of him making the same claims (if you can stand listening to the idiocy):

I thought “Allah” was simply Arabic for “God”. Don’t Arabic Christians say “Allah” for their god? Does this mean that since Allah=666, and since Allah=God, then God=666? So God is the Anti-Christ and Muslim? And I thought the anti-Christ was supposed to be Jewish. Can’t CUFI get it’s story straight? Does God annihilate himself like matter and antimatter? Since the universe acts like there is not a supreme being in it, this must obviously be true. Heh Heh Heh. A god that is its own anti-god(Christ)?