Whoo-Hoo, Jerry DeWitt makes the NYTimes!

My favorite pastor turned non-believer made the NYTimes front page today in a 5 page story on his deconversion.  I discovered Jerry’s videos early this year, shortly before the Reason Rally.  Jerry was born to be a pastor.  He’s a very charismatic speaker.  He might even make a great politician someday, provided we can keep him away from Atlas Shrugged.  If you have some time, check out how coming out has been one of the best things to happen to him psychologically but the worst thing to happen to his personal life.

And if you haven’t had an opportunity to meet Jerry yet, check out this appearance at Arkansas Society of Freethinkers from May of this year.  It’s a long video but it flies by.  You’ll appreciate how he handles the believer in the audience.  What a mensch.

And this goes out to former preachers who just can’t quit Louisiana:

Stuff that only looks random

Worlds largest woodpile, Byholma, Sweden.

Update: Is it possible that the firing of Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia is part of a ratfucking operation to get Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts?? See this post at Brietbart (Ewww) for details.  Firing Sullivan may be the first step in making Warren look like she is guilty of scientific misconduct.  Regardless, the Board of Visitors should be investigated.  Who are they taking orders from?

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I’m cleaning out the Instapaper queue this morning.  Let’s take a look:

Derek Lowe writes a response in Slate to a recent Slate article that claims that we need more scientists and mathematicians.  No, what we really need are more jobs for the hundreds of thousands of STEM majors who are out of work right now.

Derek also has a post about the future of Organic chemistry in this country.  Bottom line: there is no future in this country for organic chemists and a recent National Research Council Committee study confirms this:

Whitesides believes that the question should be asked whether PhD theses are narrow technical presentations for jobs that no longer exist. Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China? “That’s not to say that these aren’t really important activities, but we need to connect our investment in graduate school with what’s actually needed to give jobs to students.”

That’s really sad.  America has produced some of the finest chemists of the modern era but if there are no jobs after graduate school, why bother studying a dead field? You might as well get a PhD in Alchemy for all the good it will do you.  Our country hasn’t felt the full effects of all of the industrial slashing and burning on our scientific infrastructure yet but it’s coming and it won’t be pretty.  Meanwhile, our wealth of scientists are forced to pursue other careers…

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Theresa MacBain, the Methodist pastor who recently came out as an atheist, gave a short interview on Fox News radio.  It’s only 9 minutes.  Well worth the time. She did very well and held her own.  Good job, Theresa.  It’s not easy taking on the blowhards at Fox.  Let’s hope some of this interview percolated into the minds of the listeners.

Theresa is presently directing the Clergy Project, an initiative to help non-believing pastors make the transition into the civilian world.  The purpose of the Clergy Project is not to deconvert practicing pastors.  The pastors that join the project are already past the point of deconversion.  They just want out of the pulpit because they want to stop living a lie and they need to make a safe landing.  The number of clergy who have joined the project has swelled dramatically since McBain and another graduate, Jerry DeWitt, have barnstormed the country in the past couple of months.  They have almost 300 members and many more clergy who are on a waiting list to be screened before they can join.

In another sign of the atheist apocalypse, Linda LaScola, a researcher on religion, gave an interview to CNN about the rate of deconversion and its future effects on politics. The days of the religious right strangling the country and squashing modernity are numbered.

As more people turn away from religion, there is an associated trend that shows they are becoming more liberal.  So, you have to wonder why Democrats seem scared to death of the religious right.  If they just hang in there and stop ceding ground to the conservatives, in a few election cycles, the pendulum will have swung the other way.  In fact, Republicans seem to be frantically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the electorate this year because they know they are rapidly running out of time.  Before long, there won’t be enough elderly, conservative religious voters who they can conscript for the plutocrats.

By the way, did you know that up until recently, most people stayed with the religion traditions they were brought up in?  And according to Bob Altemeyer, author of The Authoritarians, “amazing apostates”, those individuals who reject their  fundamentalist upbringings and become secular do so at the rate of about 1%.  What the data shows recently is that the rate of deconversion is picking up with greater access to the internet.

Previously, that 1% shared some common characteristics, such as being good in school and valuing truth.  In other words, we don’t just accept what people tell us unquestioningly no matter how much our parents isolate us.  Altemeyer also found that there are a few people who go the other way from secular households to religious conversion but these people tend to be less well educated and they make their conversions after some life-changing event like an illness, unemployment or relationaship failure.  In other words, religious conversions happen when people are most vulnerable to persuasion and to individuals who are least able to reason their way out of it.  These findings are similar to my own experience.  I never believed the fundamentalist crap I was fed and to get me to believe it now, after I have seen the proof of evolution in my research and now know the historical facts behind the bible, would require me to undergo a lobotomy.

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Something very weird is going on at the University of Virginia.  Last week, the President Teresa Sullivan, was asked to resign abruptly by the University’s Board of Visitors, which is like the Board of Regents everywhere else.  The reasons for the resignation are not clear.  Even Sullivan herself is not actually sure why she was fired and the board is not answering questions to anyone’s satisfaction.  This move came 2 years after Sullivan was appointed and has, by all accounts, done an admirable job.

I first read about this a few days ago from a history professor there, Siva Vaidhyanathan, who wrote about the dismissal in Salon.  What Vaidhyanathan describes sounds oddly familiar to those of us in the pharmaceutical industry who have lost our jobs due to cost saving measures of the shareholders:

In the 21st century, robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris. At least that’s what’s been happening at one of the oldest public universities in the United States—Thomas Jefferson’s dream come true, the University of Virginia.

On Thursday night, a hedge fund billionaire, self-styled intellectual, “radical moderate,” philanthropist, former Goldman Sachs partner, and general bon vivant named Peter Kiernan resigned abruptly from the foundation board of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He had embarrassed himself by writing an email claiming to have engineered the dismissal of the university president, Teresa Sullivan, ousted by a surprise vote a few days earlier.

[...]

“The Board believes that in the rapidly changing and highly pressurized external environment in both health care and in academia, the University needs to remain at the forefront of change,” [Board of Vistors chair] Dragas wrote in her initial email announcement. I have no idea what that means or why it pertains to Sullivan’s dismissal. I guess it means that stuff is changing. So the university must change. Firing a president is change.

On Monday Dragas, sensing that the university community might want some explanation for such a radical act, sent out a second message: “The Board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast.”

OK, then. It’s all about pace. I suppose this means the board will appoint a new president every two years. Or maybe more frequently, because that’s the only way to keep up with the pace of change.

Earlier in the statement Dragas wrote that “the board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face.” So we can derive from Dragas’ statements that Sullivan was not bold enough, fast enough, or “proactive” enough to guide a bucolic 193-year-old institution founded by a stocking-wearing guy who studied Greek and Latin for fun.

We were all baffled. So Sullivan did nothing wrong? The board would not even hint at the reason she was fired. Conspiracy theories quickly circulated to fill the vacuum. And they got worse after Kiernan’s letter unleashed an unfounded fear that an MBA “cabal” was in cahoots with Goldman Sachs to loot the university.

It sounds like the financiers’ values have come to the University of Virginia because they loves them some change! The bizspeak jargon is always a bad sign.  No one knows what it really means, not even the speakers.  This leaves a lot of leeway to interpret the jargon on the fly to justify just about anything.  Vaidhyanathan suggests that donors to the university want more control over how their donations are used.  Maybe they want more influence over the curriculum or benefits or hiring.  Whatever it is, they want to impose change on their timetable and in their way without some capable university president who specialized in class dynamics and the sociology of debt getting in the way.

Did I mention that the University of Virginia has pretty reasonable tuition compared to its peers?  How much do you want to bet that that’s going to Change!™ now that the bonus class has got its grubby mitts on the steering wheel?  Cut back on wages benefits here, hire some more poorly paid adjunct professors there, get more companies to foot the bills for research, raise tuition 30% over a few years and voile!  This is not a charitable institution, after all.  Why should University of Virginia students and their parents get off easy?

The students and faculty have turned out for Sullivan and latest reports say that 4 of the 12 members of the Board of Visitors have approached Sullivan to ask her to stay.  But this is not a good working environment for anyone at the University and Sullivan warns that the faculty may be poached by other universities looking to pick up spooked researchers and professors.  Researchers need to be able to plan and require a contiguous and stable environment and this crap from the Board of Visitors is undermining that.  They’ll get their change for sure but what they will be left with won’t be worth anything after they’re done.  The university’s faculty need only look at the smoking hulks of our empty industrial labs and extraordinarily well compensated former MBA overlords to know what will come next.

Another disaster brought to you by the Goldman Sachs family of assholes.

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More office chairs.  I’m still pining for the white leather one from West Elm but the damn thing never goes on sale.

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Le Pacman:

Telling like it is

Making it short this morning as I’m headed out the door.

Matt Stoller is experiencing the “pain of independence” this week.  He had a “Soylent green is people! We’re eating PEOPLE!” epiphany about Obama and the Democrats the other day at Naked Capitalism after the Wisconsin catastrophe.  Matt has finally come to realize that what is good for Obama and the Democratic party is diverging from what is good for the working class (and by working class I mean everyone not living off their investments or bonuses).  Go read the whole thing.  I think he’s thought this out pretty well with the exception of the label “neoliberal”.  Sometimes, the labels get in the way of understanding so I try not to use them. I try to figure out if a politician has a worldview and goal that makes sense and has intrinsic value.  At one point in the 2008 primary season, I even had a matrix of qualities I wanted to see in a president and ranked each candidate on a weekly basis based on what data I was able to collect.  Yeah, it’s kind of Vulcan but then again, it helped me not fall into a four year swoon over Obama.

Predictably, booman writes a “Matt has cooties” post:

Yes, everyone of the left is doing it wrong because they haven’t, like Matt Stoller, taken leave of their senses and attacked the most brilliant and decent and politically talented president we’ve had in decades.

He concludes with some nonsense about interfering with the flow of commerce, which sounds a little Unibomberish. Maybe Stoller would be happier as a Somali pirate.

Oh, but we know how the president deals with those folks.

Townhouse must be a ghost town these days. What a freak show.

Yep, the economy is in shambles, the Democratic party is unrecognizable and Obama has a bill of attainder “kill list” that he can add American citizens to and *Matt* is the crazy one.

This is how it works, Matt.  Groups that use high control tactics can’t have dissent in their midst.  It disrupts the unity of thought.  You become hard to be around because your presence pushes the thoughts of those around you from a low energy state to a higher one.  Therefore, you must now be excluded unless you snap back into line.  In fact, the phenomenon of reforming your thought to that of a high control group is called “snapping“.

I and a lot of other Democrats have been there, Matt.  Some of us have pretty good day jobs at prestigious universities.  I’m thinking of Heidi Li Feldman.  Others, like Anglachel, have a background in political science.  Then there are people like Lambert who had insight in 2008 and had to fight off assimilation from readers of his own blog.  You’re not alone.  There are probably a lot more of us than even we know but people who agree with us may be afraid to come out for fear of the inevitable ostracism from the group. But our number is growing everyday.  And you’re not crazy.

And Barack Obama is not “the most brilliant and decent and politically talented president we’ve had in decades”.  Once you’ve broken out of the mindset, don’t quotes like Booman’s kind of resemble that line from the Manchurian Candidate:

 “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

Maybe Obama is, maybe he isn’t.  Wouldn’t you prefer to figure that out for yourself? It’s not the end of the world.  Knowing the truth is the optimistic point of view.  It’s a relief.  The narrative starts to make sense again.  You don’t have to keep filling the chinks of inconsistencies with elaborate excuses and improbable stories.  Now that you know, you can do something about it.

Lucky for you that you’re coming around when you will have more company in your exile.  For those of us who figured it out in 2008, it has been, ahem, interesting.  But you’ll do Ok, Matt.  With your Harvard degree, no one’s going to call you a racist or a menopausal, uneducated old lady.

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Here’s another guy who snapped out of different kind of thought.  Jerry DeWitt is the former pentacostal pastor who became an atheist. Ooo, I saw a few of you cringe just now.  Relax, Jerry’s not going to make you into a homocidal, immoral, untrustworthy nihilist.  And you don’t have to go all of the way to “there is no god”.  Jerry’s current gig is to help ease people out of religion at their own speed as executive director of Recovering from Religion.  This video is from the recent Arkansas Freethought meeting. I think the section where he talks about the marketing of religion is very interesting.  I had no idea that some religious denominations, like the 24/7, one-stop, espresso bar megachurch variety operates more like a franchise where the colors of the church and the music and the program has been carefully selected by a team of marketing experts with the goal of keeping you in the flock.  It’s funny how marketing is showing up all over the place these days.  Politics is saturated in it but who would have expected to find it at church?  Fascinating.

It’s kind of long but Jerry’s got a gift and he eases you right into it.

Tuesday: There’s something happening here

Theresa McBain, former Methodist minister, new non-believer

Theresa McBain, Methodist minister, came out publicly as an atheist during the Reason Rally weekend.  Since then, she and Jerry DeWitt, executive director of Recovering from Religion and first “graduate” of The Clergy Project, have been barnstorming the country with their stories.  They were recently on Talk of the Nation and were interviewed by Neal Conan and Barbara Bradley Haggerty.  Listen to it here.

Since Haggerty broadcast her first interview with McBain on All Things Considered, she says the piece received 25,000 responses from listeners, many with stories similar to theirs.  She also says that the fastest growing religion in America is None.  Non-believers make up 15% of the population and that segment of the population is expanding rapidly especially with young Americans.

Jerry DeWitt, former Pentacostal minister, now pastor to the non-believer

McBain and DeWitt were asked what they miss most about their religious lives and their answers are instructive.  They say they miss the emotional connections, the community and music but neither of them mention missing god.  I’d like to see them stay in the ministry by reaching out to other non-believers and showing that you can have all of those things without god.  There are some wonderful pieces of secular choral music that still deliver the emotional impact of religious music.  And we must not forget that just because a piece of music was written for the church doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by everyone.  Mozart might have been commissioned to write masses but that was a different era.  For all we know, he composed the Te Deum during an orgasm and the Ladaute Dominum in the afterglow in Constanze’s arms.  (How would the bishop ever know?)

Anyway, keep it up, Theresa and Jerry.  If nothing else, you are making it safe for the conservative religious to be comfortable with questions and they now know that they are not alone.  And that’s a good thing.

Here are my favorite choral pieces that would be lovely at any new community service:

Choose Something Like a Star, Poem by Robert Frost, set to music by Randall Thompson:

and Laudate Dominum by Mozart.  Think of all those billions of years of evolution coalescing to give us one perfect, shimmering note at minute 4:39.:

Like it matters

Thou shall count to thrrrrree

I read Charles Pierce’s delightful evisceration of Ross Douthat’s new book yesterday.  Ross is pining for the old time religion, which is Catholic, and preferably the old Latin mass variety.  Gosh, remember the days when we all wore lace doilies on our heads and gloves, carried rosary beads everywhere and couldn’t understand a single word that Father Gentili said?

Anyway, if we all just went back to mass and did what the Pope told us and stayed in the rigid little boxes that conservative religion creates for us and stopped searching the internet for answers to the questions that we all have about who wrote the bible and why Jesus didn’t leave explicit instructions about his succession and code of conduct, we’d all be a lot better off.  Don’t question anything and no one gets hurt.

Ross is also hung up over something called the Didache, which I’ve never heard of.  It turns out this mysterious tome has some proscriptions against abortion that Christians are supposed to follow.  Hallelujah for that one since the rest of the bible doesn’t seem to have an opinion on abortion or birth control.  There’s some stuff in the Old Testament about compensating a man for the loss of a fetus due to injury to the mother but it’s a bit tenuous when applied to abortions of fetuses where the paternal unit doesn’t really give a f^&*.

But whatever it is that Douthat is still yearning for is eclipsed by the fact that so many of us out here don’t care about his esoteric scribblings about which ancient 1st and 2nd century texts have the true religion.  If he wants to be the next Saint Augustine, great, but I don’t feel compelled to read his stuff as if it is saying something important to me.  I don’t know if Douthat knows this or not but the Roman Catholic church no longer rules the western world and hasn’t since Henry VIII chucked it out of England.

Former Pentacostal pastor turned atheist Jerry DeWitt says it best: we frequently feel compelled to invest more of our lives in a concept than in the people who most deserve our attention- our family members and friends.  I’d rather live in the present than bury myself in the musty, dusty texts of people who lived thousands of years ago when flush toilets hadn’t been invented and when a husband could direct his wife to expose girl babies to the elements. I’m not sure I want to be pulled back to the 1st century and I’d really appreciate it if people like Douthat would stop trying to take us there.

The thing that irritates me about some religious conservatives like Douthat is their insistence that as many people as possible think just like they do.  Divergence of opinion is simply unacceptable and they will not give up trying to convert you until you fit into their predertermined worldview.  They remind me of pathologically obsessive-compulsive people who have to touch doorknobs three times or must have vacuum tracks on their carpets that cannot be disturbed by children.  People like that need to get as many people as possible around them to comply so that they’re not driven crazy by imperfections and inconsistencies.  They need medication, not indulgence.

Besides, there is something that Douthat simply refuses to acknowledge (or is freaking out about).  Many of us don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian god, bible and religion.  I don’t know where Douthat has been in the past several decades but there are a lot of people of different faiths here in the US of A and not all of them have a stick up their butt about the bible like Douthat has.  Not only that but there are some people who don’t believe in a god at all.  And as DeWitt says, once you don’t believe, you have only two choices.  You can admit that you don’t believe and be true to yourself, or you could pretend to believe.  Pretending to believe is called faith and a lot of people do it.  It is belief in something in the complete absence of evidence.  And, you know, if that’s what you want to do, knock yourself out.  Don’t let me or anyone else stand in your way.  Just don’t expect the rest of us to act like it matters.

Here’s a clip of DeWitt talking about free will, predestination, faith and why did God put that tree in the garden of Eden in the first place:

God needs a major upgrade and rewrite but let’s not give a project of that importance to a twit like Douthat.

More on the Reason Rally: What the left can learn from the godless

Jesus rides a dinosaur at The Reason Rally, March 24, 2012

Brooke woke up earlier than her customary “crack of noon” wakeup on the weekends and is now busily draining my hot water tank for her “hour shower”. (note to self: commence 5 minute shower training regimen for upcoming exchange trip to Germany) All this is to say that once she’s awake and has fed that monster that lives in her stomach, she can set about to download her pictures.

In the meantime, I want to talk about what I think the left can learn from the Reason Rally and vice versa. This is really important because although movements like Occupy have struck a nerve with the public and have reintroduced morality into our public discourse (that’s what the “we are the 99%” mantra is all about), it suffers from something that the Reason Rally already has- established community organizations or just organization, period.

Organization is not a bad thing. Getting together and having a show is much easier to do when you plan and delegate. It’s also much harder for police to breakup. The people on the mall yesterday were every bit as committed as anyone who has attended an Occupy event. They are just as concerned with the erosion of our constitutional rights, just as concerned with the suffering of the poor and disenfranchised and just as committed to do something about it. But they choose to do it through the groups they have already established. They are humanist, secularist, rationalist, freethought, atheist and skeptic groups. They’ve been around for awhile but in just the past few years, they have seen an explosion of their ranks. Here are a few things that set them apart from the Occupy movement:

1.) They organize conferences. There are a number of freethought, skeptic and atheist conferences across the country. Some of these happen in colleges, like Skepticon, which is held each year in Missouri. But there are also a lot of freethought groups scattered all over the bible belt in places like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and even Mississippi. Find a venue that won’t be raided by dudes in riot gear and invite some speakers. This last point is important. The kind of people who went to the Reason Rally are the kind you might have seen at early Occupy marches. They are ordinary, middle class and working class people and their kids. But what you won’t see at a Reason Rally event is batallions of storm troopers. I didn’t see a strong police presence at all at yesterday’s rally.

2.) They write books. Many of the invited speakers for yesterday’s rally in Washington have written very popular books that fall into the category of what I will call The New Enlightenment (shout out to Dan Barker who started a “Tell me what Enlightenment looks like, This is what Enlightenment looks like!”) Some of those books, like Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, are well known and popular. Others, like Dan Barker’s Godless is a *de-conversion* story, and we’ve all seen the power of personal testimonials at DailyKos. The important thing is that the these de-conversions broke new ground. It’s important that religious insiders write them because it comes from an authentic place and those insiders know how the “company” works. Other speakers like Michael Shermer, write on morality. It is important for your prospective audience to know what issues you are wrestling with so they can engage and dissent. And dissent is crucial to growing confidence in a movement. That’s how ideas grow and breakthroughs happen. Your audience shouldn’t be afraid to challenge you on your statements and that leads to something that I think the Reason Rally participants value most of all (I’ll get to that at the end).

3.) They use media in many forms to reach out to others outside the group. There are a number of podcasts and community television programs that are employed so that outsiders have a chance to interact and learn. One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about New Enlightment leaders is that they’ve found their niches of specialization pretty easily and are developing their talents in that specialization. Richard Dawkins is like a guru. He is full of wonder at the breathtaking beauty of nature and he communicates that very well. His audiences listen with rapt attention to the way he articulates what they are experiencing about the world and themselves without the interference of dogma. Jerry DeWitt of Recovering from Religion is another talented speaker who encourages us to live fully in the present and be joyful about our own uniqueness and individuality. Other leaders inspire through humor or entertainment, like Tim Minchin or Eddie Izzard. I’d even put Dan Barker in this category because his Friendly Neighborhood Atheist song (please put this online, guys. It’s delightful), which was a homage to the very decent Fred Rogers, can take the heat out of possible conflict with gentle humor and musicality. Some leaders are very good on YouTube. That media suits their deftness with editing their stream of consciousness thoughts into brilliant arguments. I’m thinking Cristina Rad, AronRa, Thunderfoot and Evid3nc3. Still others like Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) who is involved with the Secular Student Alliance, Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist) and Matt Dillahunty (The Atheist Experience) engage the public through dialogue in a radio and TV format. You can call in and ask them anything. If you’re a feminist, check out The Godless Bitches with Beth Presswood and friends. Then there are watchdog groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation who work with lawyers and the law to make sure the rights of non-believers are respected. They defend people like Jessica Ahlquist, see to it that they don’t go it alone and know they have support and the law behind them. Or Sean Faircloth’s lobbying effort through the Secular Coalition of America. In short, there is something for everyone. You pick the level and method of your involvement and there will be a community out there for it.

4.) They learned from the experiences of other groups. Greta Christina, atheist activist, has a brilliant piece about what the non-believer community can learn from the LGBT community and the similarities are striking between the two groups. People like Greta are invaluable in pointing out how to avoid the pitfalls of the groups that went before you and where you might even speed up the process or avoid alienating your friends.

5.) Finally, and this is the most important part that I think is hardest to articulate, they have RIGOR. What is rigor? Well, from a labrat’s POV, rigor is a hard quality to achieve. It is discipline of the mind to learn to separate data from bias, experience from artifact and to be able to make conclusions that survive past the current set of observations. If your conclusions can’t be applied to new experiences, your method must be revised until they can. A method must have rigor or it’s a fucking useless piece of shit, excuse my French. That’s why sciencey types are always asking questions and poking holes in other people’s arguments. They’re not trying to be pains in the asses (unless they’re suckups who are trying to impress their bosses). They are looking for rigor. And you shouldn’t be insulted when they ask you to defend yourself. In fact, it’s kind of a challenge of equals. You show me your evidence, I’ll show you mine and we’ll do sort of mental fencing and see who wins. You should have the evidence, data and preliminary conclusions to back up what you are saying. It’s only when you don’t have that evidence, and then refuse to acknowledge that you need it, that the rationally minded individual starts to pigeon hole you as a nutter or ignorant or most of the time, just plain lazy.

When Fox News types accuse the Reason Rally audience as simply having faith of a different kind, those leaders can come back with, “not really, we just have rigor!“. That ought to send the Fundies scrambling for their dictionaries.

But a lot of the left is just as plain lazy and ignorant as those on the right. They’re just lazy about different things. The right goes on about God and faith and evolution and can just be tiresome after awhile. And on the left, the stupid non-rigorous posturing about GM food, vaccines, and homeopathic remedies gets really old as well. Yes, they may actually be good or bad for you but where is your rigor?

The left needs to be on its guard, but frequently isn’t, to people who will seek to exploit this lack of rigor for their own ends. We may all laugh at Michelle Bachmann’s crazy talk about the HPV vaccine causing brain damage but the left doesn’t blink an eye when some equally crazy person on the left makes the claim that bee colonies are being wiped out by GM corn. Whole websites have been known to eat that bit of “vacuous crap” without question. And it doesn’t need to be said at this point that if the left had been more rigorous in its selection process in 2008, it wouldn’t have been rolled by the Democratic party’s PR operatives into supporting the weakest candidate that moderate Republicans would find acceptable.

Failures like these hurt the left because when it starts to respond with emotion rather than reason, it can often fail to identify the real causes for alarm. It makes the left less effective advocates or adversaries because emotion and faith is easy to dismiss. In fact, there are just as many people on the left who haven’t got a clue what “critical thinking skills” are as there are on the right. It just a term that sounds good and smart. But from what I have seen of the left, there’s a lot of learning to do about what it means to think critically. It is vitally important that we learn to do so as quickly as possible because evidence and rigor are much more deadly than mere tribal beliefs when we seek to disarm our adversaries.

So, what I would advise Occupy to do is to start applying more rigor to its methods. It should not be afraid to challenge its own beliefs. It is a good thing to apply the scientific method. You know that there is widespread suffering. You know that people are being exploited, cheated, mislead. You want to do something about it. Doing something positive about negative things that are destroying your society is a very laudable goal. It will contribute to the overall happiness of society. But to do this, it is not simply enough to get angry and protest. You must also get smart. You need to put aside your prejudices, emotions and biases and apply a more rigorous method for developing your proposed solutions. Collect evidence, ask questions, recruit experts, solicit advice, analyze carefully, eliminate noise and concentrate on signal and test your conclusions. Accept challenges. I understand that some Occupy working groups are already doing this. The one that came out with the thorough, well researched response letter to the financial crisis is a case in point. But the ones that have to do with science and pharma are still mired in some very non-rigorous debate and pseudoscience that is not going to be helpful. It just looks stupid, from my perspective, and should get the same kind of treatment that Tim Minchin gave to Storm.

When I heard Minchin’s poem for the first time yesterday, I immediately thought of some people on the left I’ve met. What a waste. Without rigor, some of them do just come off looking like Dirty Fucking Hippies. They might be right but all their opponents see is incense, astrological charts and an easily lead mind that poses no threat to them. It is really important for the left to challenge the lazy thinking of some of its adherents and not be afraid to tell them when it’s utter crap. Policing your own will greatly enhance your reputation.

Ok, I’m off of my soapbox now. I do have to say that after the past couple of months, reviewing all of the material online and attending the Reason Rally yesterday, that I think the two major parties are engaging in poo-flinging and I don’t want any part in it anymore. I think I’m ready to finally give up the Democrats altogether, even though that’s where my sympathies are. The question is, are the Democratic party’s sympathies with its base? The overwhelming evidence of its actions over the past several election cycles is very clearly No. I’m ready for The New Enlightenment and where it’s going. That doesn’t mean I think Occupy is a waste of time. Far from it. I think Occupy has tremendous potential but only in that it needs to intersect with The New Enlightement and learn from it to make it an effective tool against growing authoritarianism. But there needs to be a new foundation laid upon which we base our worldview and the Reason Rally participates are actively engaging in doing it while the left is still struggling out of a fog. Greta Christina would probably recommend that we reach out to each group and form a coalition with each other. Let’s try that.

Here again is Tim Minchin’s poem Storm as he delivered it yesterday at The Reason Rally:

Thursday: Things that shouldn’t need to be said but…

1.) Susie Madrak found this post by George Lakoff that I think everyone in the left blogosphere should read and commit to heart.  It’s about the Santorum Strategy and what is really going on with the Republican primary.

Liberals tend to underestimate the importance of public discourse and its effect on the brains of our citizens. All thought is physical. You think with your brain. You have no alternative. Brain circuitry strengthens with repeated activation. And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called “independents,” who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.

This point is being missed by Democrats and by the media, and yet it is the most vital issue for our future in what is now being discussed. No matter who gets the Republican nomination for president, the Santorum Strategy will have succeeded unless Democrats dramatically change their communication strategy as soon as possible. Even if President Obama is re-elected, he will have very little power if the Republicans keep the House, and a great deal less if they take the Senate. And if they keep and take more state houses and local offices around the country, there will be less and less possibility of a liberal future.

I think I’ve said this before (I’ll see if I can find the links to my posts about it) but it bears repeating because the A list bloggers don’t seem to be getting it: the reason why the Republican primary is dragging on is because it works in the Republicans favor.  It changes the national dialog and keeps the issues that Republicans want to talk about out there in the media all the way to August.  Don’t be surprised if there is a brokered convention.  They *want* the whole nation sitting on the edge of its seat waiting to see who the Republicans crown.  That means they can talk about deficit reduction, entitlement reform and women’s reproductive rights for a long, long time. By the time they are done, the general public will believe that reducing the deficit at all costs is the most important thing in the world and that no one should pay for anyone’s health insurance, much less birth control.  If you made the stupid lifestyle decision to be born human and indulged in living, putting your body at risk, that’s YOUR problem. Romney and Santorum are in this together for this tag team event and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans have already issued primary voters their votes in advance.  It only looks like chaos to the lefty bloggers sitting smugly at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.  But come August, the Democrats, who should have been championing Occupy Wall Street without trying to co-opt it (see more on this below) are going to be scrambling to control the message.  Never underestimate the Republicans’ desire to win.

PS: I need a job, George.  Call me.

2.) Lefty bloggers are wasting their time talking about Sarah Palin.  If Democrats need independent women’s votes, maybe they should stop assuming that Palin is the cause of their defection from the Democratic party.  She’s not.  There are just as many of us out here who are independent liberals who are Democrats in Exile, who do not give a flying fuck about what comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth.  Frankly, we’re turned off by the Palin bashing, not because she’s a viable politician (she’s not) but because she’s a human being and we’re just tired of the left using Palin as the dumping ground for their current round of misogyny.

Can we move on from Palin already?  She disgraced herself last year during the  Gabby Giffords shooting episode and before that when she teamed up with her chum, Glenn Beck.  Palin had a choice after 2008.  She could have become a legitimate politician on the right, and still not to our tastes, or she could have become a hack.  She chose the latter.  Let’s move on.

Palin is not relevant in this election season.  OBAMA is relevant this election season.  Nothing Palin tells women who have flocked to her, and this woman is not one of them, is going to persuade them to vote for a Republican.  What might persuade them is the persistently lagging economy and anger at Obama for doing such a lousy job as president.  We could have had a V8 but we got watered down tomato juice instead.

The rest of us independent liberals are shopping around for a third party.  I would advise the Democrats to stop touting Lilly Ledbetter as the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Not only is this stupidly deceptive, women are not fooled.  It’s an insult to our intelligence.  Even we can figure out that there is still no fairness in our paychecks, if we are lucky enough to still have them.  And instead of being proactive about reproductive rights, the Democrats are not making a full throated defense of them against the Republican juggernaut.  We are going to remember who took down Rush.  It wasn’t president Obama.

By the way, if some of this diatribe about Palin sounds like something the Republican right wing nut cases are saying, it’s because even those vile mouths of Sauron have a point.  Stop being dicks, Democrats.  You’re playing right into their hands.

I’m still hopeful for a third party candidate.  The two major parties are busy talking amongst themselves and leaving the voters out of it.  They are leaving the American electorate on the table.  Some decent politician could see this as an opportunity of a lifetime and consider running as an Independent New Deal Democrat.  Think about it.

3.) When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.  The reason why the Republicans are pulling out all of the stops over paying for women to have sex is because they are working for insurance companies.  Insurance companies do not want to have to pay for this.  They are going to pass the costs onto someone.  Are you kidding?! Did you think the CEO of United Healthcare is going to take a cut to his bonus just because some broad in Washington wants to have sex?  Please.

The argument that Democrats are making that this will actually save insurance companies money doesn’t ring true to me.  Right now, all of the women who aren’t covered by the birth control mandate are bearing the costs by themselves.  That is saving the insurance companies money.  The vast majority are already preventing unwanted pregnancy related expenses for the insurance companies.  But let’s say that the companies end up paying for some unexpected surprises.  The cost of a pregnancy is already factored into the negotiations the insurance company has made with doctors and hospitals.  There’s a flat fee for an uncomplicated delivery.  That could easily be eclipsed by 10 years of oral contraceptives.  And now, they are going to be covering millions of women that they previously didn’t have to cover.  Of course it’s a hit to their bottom line.

If the Democrats were smart, they would have adopted the message of Occupy Wall Street and associated the insurance companies with the 1%, which they are.  They are trying to make a profit at the expense of your health.  They are collecting much more in premiums than they will ever pay out to you.  It’s immoral.  They’re making money hand over fist and giving themselves huge bonuses at your expense.  It’s immoral.  They’re greedy bastards and they’re making you feel dirty for asking for something that should be your right as a premium paying individual.  It’s immoral.

But Democrats are not smart.

3.) Speaking of the morality of Occupy Wall Street, the way that Democrats participated in muting the occupy movement (temporarily) may come back to bite them in the ass.  As I have noted before, the Republicans have a moral worldview and the Democrats do not (will try to find link to my post on this.  Must make better tags.  Sigh.).  You may not like the Republicans’ worldview but there’s no question that any American you ask can explain what it is.

What the Democrats currently have is everything on the table on a slippery slope and no backstop.  Not a winning formula.  They could have let the Occupy movement build momentum and then coasted to a win on its slipstream.  They could have said, “Hey, those dirty fucking hippies have a point!  The 1% *are* greedy fucks who are destroying the American middle class.  Maybe we should redefine what it means to be successful.  Maybe we should make the system more fair and help everyone achieve their goals so that America is number one again in innovation and prosperity.  Maybe we need to treat hard working Americans with more respect and champion their free speech rights.  Maybe we should stand up with them and labor against the soul destroying corporate class. Maybe we should force bankers to be good American citizens.”

But the Democrats did none of these things.  In fact, the Democrats were ultimately behind the DHS riot police interventions and the FBI surveillance and the infiltrations.  Oh, no, you say?  Well, who the hell else is in charge of the executive branch these days?

So, you gotta ask yourself, why is it that the Democrats would be more willing to engage in a strategy to enforce learned helplessness in anyone who wants to change the conversation and redirect it away from the ubiquitous Republican austerity message machine?

Who are the Democrats working for?  Hint: it’s not for you.

4.) Greg Smith, formerly of Goldman Sachs, now joins the ranks of the unemployed, possibly forever, after he immolated himself on the Op/Ed page of the NYTimes.  I hope he has a stash to fall back on.

I believe Smith.  I think he was what he says he was and do not question his descriptions of business as usual in the hallways of Goldman Sachs.  Let’s not forget that Jon Corzine was once a top executive at Goldman Sachs and look what wonders he did for the muppet investors of M. F. Global.  Or the Democratic base for that matter.  He has a habit of taking what is not his and giving it away to the undeserving.

Anyway, lest any of us in the pharma research forget, it was Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan who coordinated the merger mania that lead to Pharmageddon and all of the jobs we have lost in the past several years.  They do not care that what they are doing to the research industry is destroying it and is going to result in a vastly reduced portfolio of new drug therapies in the future.  All that is important is extracting the last bits of wealth from these ailing industries for the big shareholders and gigantic bonuses for themselves.  The ruined lives and careers that are left in the wake of these restructurings and mergers do not matter to them at all.  We’re losers, muppets and carrion.

This is not going to stop as long as executives are rewarded for short term planning.  It’s really not their fault that they behave the way they do.  It’s what they get paid for.  When we stop rewarding them for it, they’ll stop destroying us and not a second before.  It is stupid and foolish to expect them to act like decent human beings when they don’t have to.

So, what are Democrats planning to do to make sure the incentives are directed towards long term investment and prudent risk and financial stability?  Fuck if I know.

5.) Last but not least, I was looking at the lineup for the Reason Rally and while I am impressed by the great speakers who are going to be big draws for the Humanist, Freethought, Skeptics and Atheist movement, I was a little disappointed to see that many of them are not American.  If the Reason Rally organizers are trying to get attention for their voting bloc, it would be a good idea to ask Dawkins to serve more as MC, rather than headliner and let the American superstars take center stage (Dan Barker, Greta Cristina, Adam Savage etc.).  Otherwise, this rally is going to backfire.  You can already see the spin the Republicans are conjuring up.  Don’t fall into their trap.  I know that the rally attendees are going to be good, hard working, patriotic Americans who want reason to prevail over superstition.  That is what you need to work with.  The last thing you want is an international lineup of eggheads, much as I like Dawkins.  You need to have speakers who can connect with their audience, who come from a genuine place in the American experience and who lead Americans to a better way.  Sort of like this guy, Jerry Dewitt, former Pentacostal-Dominionist pastor and current executive director of Recovering from Religion, who in the span of 12 minutes manages to honor Tim Tebow, Christopher Hitchens, Thanksgiving and Christmas in a genuine, uplifting, positive  and non-theistic way:

Can I get an “Amen!”?

Recovering from Religion is an organization that is helping clergy and other believers make a transition away from more oppressive religious sects.  Dewitt says he gets a lot of inquiries from conservative Christians, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses because these communities tend to isolate their members so when a believer tries to get out, they lose much more than their religions.  They lose their families, community, sometimes their jobs, and they lose their identities.  Dewitt calls it “identity suicide”.  It’s a hard transition to make but people of good conscience who can no longer bear living a lie need a place to go where they will find acceptance and help.  Imagine Jinger Duggar trying to escape her captors and looking for a safe mental haven.  That’s what Dewitt is trying to provide.  So, if you are looking for a place to make a charitable contribution this year, consider donating to Recovering from Religion.  For every person who comes out of the spell, there is one more American who can help set the country back on the right track.  I think this is a mission that is worthy of our support and may even cough up a few bucks myself from income tax return.

By the way, I am astonished by the number of freethought meetings and organizations there are in the reddest states of the union.  I’m talking about Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska.  These people are very active and they are posting their meetings and media podcasts all over youtube.  Here in NJ?  Ehhhhh, not so much.  I guess that’s because New Jerseyans already feel comfortable as godless heathens and don’t feel the need to organize. I think they’re wrong.  The suburbs of central Jersey are sometimes indistinguishable from the bible belt.

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