Old news: Cross purposes

May 17, 2012

A couple stories I’ll throw in; one from the start of 2012 when I wasn’t in the mood to blog and one from September 2010 when I would have blogged about it had I seen it. Oldest first: Mount Lebanon village erects giant cross as sign of unity

In the mountainous village of Qanat Bekish, a giant cross soaring over 73 meters in the air was constructed and lit up as a sign of unity among the world’s people.

I fail to see how a cross can be a sign of unity for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, atheists and any other group that wouldn’t fall under the Christian umbrella. But maybe those people don’t really count…

The edifice was inaugurated by the Maronite Christian Church and was lit up with 1,800 spotlights, according to Father Farid Doumit, a Maronite priest in Qanat Bekish. The inauguration came on the eve of the Feast of the Holy Cross, a celebration which commemorates finding the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

The cross was found? How come I didn’t know about that? When did that happen? States Wikipedia,

According to legends that spread widely throughout Western Europe, the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross[2] placed inside it. Other legends explain that in 614, that portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until it was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628. Initially taken to Constantinople, the cross was returned to the church the following year.

French Catholic groups and locals donated a total of $1.5 million to make the cross a reality.


(via)

What a waste of money in my opinion. They could have gotten the same amount of pipe from Home Depot a lot cheaper than that, even including shipping costs.

In northern Lebanon, a Mass was held in Koura at the Saydit Bkifteen monastery. Archimandrite Issac Khoury presided over the ceremony and stressed the importance the cross had for Christians.

And what do the Muslims who share Lebanon think about this so-called unity cross? The article doesn’t say.

Onto the second. I discovered the link I’d saved died but the story was out of Mt. Juliet in Tennessee where the mayor there was hoping to erect a giant cross to honour God and country. While looking for a copy of the story elsewhere, I found the Storify rundown of tweets about the news.

The mayor of Mt. Juliet said he wants to see a megachurch build near I-40 and erect a Christian cross to complement a nearby flag. The idea was met with applause when he floated it to the local chamber of commerce but has been derided by sites like Fark.com.

Fark is probably where I found out about it. PZ Myers got his followers to crash a poll the Tennessean paper had posted about it but that link is also dead. The question was, “Should a mayor incorporate his or her faith into plans for a city?” The only real answer should be no, rendering the need to poll somewhat moot. Alas, if PZ had to get involved, responses must have been going in the opposite direction.

The site also notes the existence of a “15-foot cross along Interstate 40″ already, erected by Cookville, a town 30 miles east. The mayor wants to keep up with the Joneses, I guess. Maybe he thinks it’d boost tourism, like those who erected a 33 foot tall Jesus in Swiebodzin, Poland:

Some locals think the statue will bring more visitors to the area, which others think is a waste of money.

“I don’t understand. With all this money, we would have done better to build an elementary school,” said Jarek, 41, from a nearby village.

A source close to the project said it had cost around a million euros (£870,000).

But, no money goes to waste if it’s a statue of Jesus or his torture implement. Never mind what kind of social programs could have gotten a boost from that kind of money, throw it all toward a giant erection instead…


The One Minion Search Party – “are plastic surgeons playing god”

May 16, 2012

I’m at odds with the world of plastic surgery. I wrote a piece in 2011 focused on the dilemma a British woman found herself in after botched work . (She never got the £54 million she thought she deserved, though.) I’m generally appalled by the lengths to which some women will go to look fitter, younger, more mutant or less ethnic. (It affects guys, too. I mean, what the hell, Kenny Rogers? What the merry flipping Ken doll hell?) Some people are addicted to plastic surgery and are never satisfied with their latest run under the knife. Bigger butts, shorter toes, changing the shape of the chin or nose or jaw or cheeks… Facelifts and vagina lifts.. I don’t think there’s an area of the body immune to one’s notion of “room for improvement.”

Earlier this month I got a kick out of story regarding a new television series set in Miami in 1959 and the hellish time the casting people had finding women who didn’t have boob jobs.

Producers discovered many women of South Florida have been surgically enhanced beyond anything natural to the late 1950s.

“I’ve actually had better luck finding synchronized swimming groups than I did finding real boobs,” said Bill Marinella, local extras casting director. “We did a lot of research and reached out to burlesque clubs and just finding people on the beach and literally walking up to them on the street and saying, ‘Hey, you look like you’re right out of The Great Gatsby.’ ”

I suppose it’d be impossible to separate the sense of self worth from the judgement of one’s looks (or at least the suspicion that looks are being judged). I know there are women who claim boob jobs made them more confident, or made people take them more seriously. Hell, older successful women can’t even walk out the door sans makeup without some media outlet making a story out of it. Small wonder people will hurry to a doctor to erase the signs of aging. Every minor physical “flaw” is a reason to pick on someone…

It boosts my mood to see young girls taking popular magazines to task for their portrayals of women. Like 14 year old Julia Bluhm and her protest against Seventeen:

Julia’s journey from smalltown Maine to midtown Manhattan began less than two weeks ago, when she took her cause to Change.org, an activist forum, and set up her petition online. She was joined by six other teen girls and young women affiliated as she is with SPARK, a national organization that pushes back against sexualized images of girls in the media.

Julia made her case in detail at the top of her online petition, saying unrealistic images “can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem”:

“To girls today, the word ‘pretty’ means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It’s because the media tells us that ‘pretty’ girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin.”

Those who run the mag assured her that they do their best to portray their models as authentic as possible but other magazines can’t make the same claim. Any lady-aimed rags you look at while in line at the grocery store will either feature immaculate women on the cover or flaunt the worst possible pictures of other women in order to mock the cellulite or the lack of “put-together” while out running errands. It’s a constant bombardment and a constant reminder that women apparently only exist to be admired for their beauty or insulted when they don’t accentuate their beauty.

But getting back to the plastic surgery part of this now – there are good reasons to have properly trained plastic surgeons. There are legitimate reasons beyond pure vanity to hire them; skin grafts for burn victims and fixing cleft palates are two uses that come to mind. There are probably others. I’d never say there’s no need for them but I think needs should be weighed in terms beyond “I want to be prettier!” I’ll quote the Daily Mail article I linked to above:

Rightly, the judge decided this was an over-inflated amount. But even to have granted a ninth of that sum seems to me excessive. Who’s to say the company wouldn’t have failed anyway? After all, it seems to have survived for years after her cosmetic surgery — failing only in 2009, when we were in the grip of recession.

I wouldn’t wish Penny Johnson’s experience on anyone. She certainly deserves much sympathy. But what a shame that she’s not telling the world that she will give most of that money to a charity for facially deformed children.

If only she just rolled up her sleeves and went back to work, she could prove to us all that there really is more to life than just a pretty face.

Yeah, if only. Unfortunately, it’d take more than one person to pull that off. Everybody would have to make the effort and it’s hard to say if there’d be much in the way of incentives for trying.


Old news: faith healing event ends in tragedy, death

May 11, 2012

It wasn’t directly the fault of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Nigeria, but he was the person 150,000 people had traveled to see in Cape Town back in March. He has a reputation as a miraculous faith healer so people who should be going to doctors – or have but don’t like their diagnoses or prognoses – are putting their faith in his ability to heal. One man in the audience during the three day Pentecostal show died, another pastor by the name of Simon Williams. The fifty-six year old

was taken from hospital intensive care to the event by his family. He collapsed and died from renal failure inside the stadium.

Dr Wayne Smith, head of disaster medicine for Cape Town, said he treated about 30 patients in the stadium’s medical centre and sent 16 to hospital.

“Some of them had travelled long distances to get there, they had ongoing medical issues and were in a lot of pain,” he said.

Pastor Chris has a few black marks on him already. In 2008, he was accused of protecting another pastor from his church who might have murdered a girl. He’s been suspected of money laundering to the tune of 35 million dollars and charges exorbitant attendance fees for special events at his Christ Embassy church. He, along with a lot of other evangelicals in the country, preach the prosperity gospel, and the poor are giving him upwards of 30% of their available money in the hopes that God will turn things around for them. Of course, the truth is that only Christ Embassy and the pastors in it get to prosper and enjoy a windfall.

So, back to this faith healing business. It’s understandable why people with little hope of improvement (in health or finances) would try something like this but this shit doesn’t work. James Randi helped expose Peter Popoff as a fraud back in 1987 but he’s still kicking around and still fleecing otherwise intelligent people on a weekly basis. “Desperation changes the balance.”

If you would tell them not to give their money to Peter Popoff, what would you tell them to do instead? Would they be better off giving that $100 to the bank that’s about to foreclose on their house anyway, or to the landlord about to evict them? If we have no alternative solution to offer, then our best arguments may boil down to this: false hope is expensive, and hopelessness is free. That’s not a strong selling point.

People need hope. We have a powerful need to feel like we have some control over our fate, even if it is an illusion. That’s why those with the most serious illnesses spend the most money on quack therapies. And it’s why we can’t save desperate people from the likes of Peter Popoff through debunking alone—we need to offer a positive alternative that meets their needs.

When people really don’t know which way to turn, any wrong direction can feel like the right one. Maybe it seems like there isn’t time to look into alternatives, or it doesn’t occur to them to look for different kind of aid or support, or they think there won’t be anything even remotely close to what they need, save a miracle. I don’t know. I just hope that if I’m ever in dire straits I’ll look for real help rather than put faith in something ultimately useless.


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 1

May 1, 2012

I found a copy of this at Value Village, a version of the game from 1984. I had no idea the game was still being made, though. According to official rules:

Scruples makes players sweat as they ask each other what they would do in a moral predicament. Luckily no one has to tell the truth and there’s no right answer!

Well, I guess that’s one way to play it. I was planning on playing it straight, though, since the point of this whole endeavor is to demonstrate an atheist’s ability to make ethical and moral choices. I’m going to pick three questions out of my card deck and answer them seriously. A fourth question will be added for readers who want to “play along” but feel free to respond to any question that looks like fun to answer.

So, question 1: You’ve gone to see a nude show. Next day, a female colleague asks how you spent the evening. Do you tell her?

Recall here that I am a woman, not a guy.

First, it depends on the atmosphere of the work place. I know people who made the mistake of telling coworkers they’d gone to the casino when it first opened and rumours got flying about how often they were probably gambling. Some of them were close to the truth, but that’s beside the point. Gossip might be the glue that holds a social group together but what people do off the job should be their own business (so long as it’s not illegal or hurting anyone). People love to judge other people on their choices, though. Setting up the notion that someone might have a reputation as a problem gambler (or “slut”) may effect how that person is treated in the workplace.

Second, it depends on how well I know her and what her role is in that workplace in comparison to mine. If she’s my supervisor, I don’t know if I’d admit I went to Chippendales or whatever. If I knew the woman well enough to know she was heavily religious and unlikely to be impressed with my blasé account of seeing men with their kit off, I’d probably lie and say I’d stayed in. If she was someone I did know well who’d be heartily envious over how I spent my night, I’d go to town elaborating on the show when we found a quiet time to catch up.

As an aside, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that bans the mixing of strip clubs and alcohol. A protest show called “Naked if I Want” is set to run here in Saskatoon on May 4th at the Cosmo Civic Centre. Email mybodymydance@hotmail.com to get more information or request a place on the guest list.

The idea was for the Liberals to host the stripping event and oppose the alcohol control regulation that prohibits establishments from serving liquor when the entertainment involves nudity, a strip tease performance, or a wet clothing contest—but the party shut it down.

“The members didn’t like it, there was no official policy passed, so it got shut down,” Buckner said. “I was devastated.”

Buckner, who performs as a drag king with the stage name Stevie Blunder, has since decided to hold the show and give the proceeds to support the Saskatoon Slut Walk and Consentfest. Both events are dedicated to “ending victim-blaming and making sex-positive attitudes where we really need them—here in Saskatchewan,” she said.

What a good first question. You’d think I had planned it so I could lead into that story, but I assure it it was all coincidence.

Question 2: In his will, a man leaves your charitable organization a substantial bequest but fails to provide for his sick widow. (The bastard!) The whole estate is needed to maintain the widow. (Shit!) Do you fight to keep the bequest?

Cripes. Temptation is to keep it, but if word got out, and it inevitably would hit the Twitterverse in a heartbeat, my organization would be likely shitbombed with complaints and accusations and a withdrawal of support from dedicated donors. Bloggers would write about this poor woman and set up funds so people the world over could dig deep into their own wallets for a couple bucks to help her out. She’d probably get a lot more money that way… but the right thing to do would be to announce publicly that the bequest was going to be redirected to her. The good press garnered from that magnanimous gesture would boost my reputation as a caring person and probably boost donations to my charity. Maybe I wouldn’t get the same dollar value in the long run, but I’d feel better about myself. She’d get the help she needs and I’d still be able to help others. Win win.

Question 3: You are the director of the neighbourhood food cooperative. A member – a single mother with four children – is caught shoplifting $30 in groceries. You suspect she has been stealing for years. Do you press charges?

I had to look up how food co-ops work. I’ve never used one, but I’ve walked by Steep Hill on Broadway quite often.

As a co-operative, our products represent what our members want: quality, not profit, is our motive. We as Steep Hill members have the opportunity to be involved with the everyday operation of our store through a monthly work commitment.

Shopping at Steep Hill is a friendly experience, without the pressures and stresses of supermarket shopping. Meeting your neighbours, getting to know people with similar concerns are added attractions at Steep Hill Co-op. Nobody profits except the members.

Okay, so I think what might work in a case like this would be bringing it to the attention of the other members to get their input. Would they be pissed off enough to want to cancel her membership or would they be willing to make arrangements for her to work the value of the food off? With four kids, she’d definitely need the food. I suppose it would also depend on how bad off she actually is. What if this is a woman who got a hell of a divorce settlement and could afford to buy organic at Sobeys but likes to give the impression that she’s merely a community conscious volunteer? In that case, yeah, I would want to press charges.

Question 4, and open to comments from the peanut gallery: You’ve accepted a date when someone you REALLY like calls and asks you out for the same night. Do you try to get out of the first date?

Okay, some of the questions are a little less thought-provoking than others…


Banned Book Club – Grapes of Wrath

March 21, 2012

–Edit March 21/12 – I wrote this on the third and apparently I hit “Save draft” instead of “Publish” because it was still sitting in my draft folder. Ah well. You can enjoy it now.

Freedom to Read Week is wrapping up today and the only book club I’m in reads nothing but banned or challenged books, so it’s a good time to be writing about one. John Steinbeck’s seminal work was the book we’d picked this time around. If you’ve never read it, go get yourself a copy. Seriously.

The basis of the story, for those who are unfamiliar: Tom Joad has just been released from prison and is on his way home to rejoin his family. Unfortunately, his family’s already left the struggling farm they’d been living on in Oklahoma, forced off the land by circumstances beyond their control: the Great Depression. Tom runs into an old family friend in the meantime, a preacher by the name of Casy, who’s long since given up on the notion that a god gives a damn about what’s going on in the world. When the two of them hear that the Joad family has probably gone to stay with Uncle John, they hurry over; the Joads have decided to head for California like so many other desperate families and Tom and Casy arrive just in time to join them. There are thousands of jobs there — at least, that’s the rumour that gets everyone through their days. Are they ever in for a surprise… Read the rest of this entry »


When life gives you lemons, squeeze the s#%t out of them?

March 13, 2012

I haven’t been in the mood to update this for a few days. I’ve been mildly stressed out while waiting to hear word about my library job. I’ve been working in a full-time term for more than 3 years and the job posting finally came out to make it permanent. Unfortunately, full time with no evenings and weekends is a coveted kind of job around there so every Tomassina, Dixie and Jane applied for it and, regardless of the interview process, the most senior applicant will wind up with it. That person isn’t me. So, as of May I’ll be back to my half time hours elsewhere. Pros and cons to that, of course. More free time but less money coming to me every month. A lot less. That’s going to be quite the adjustment and that’s quite the understatement.

Maybe it’s a sign I should update my resume and look for alternatives.


Harold Camping admits defeat, sins

March 8, 2012

It takes a big man to admit he’s wrong. Considering just how big Harold Camping’s wrongs were, then, the man must be a giant. Repeated attempts to predict the Rapture and the end of the world ended in big fat failures and ultimately ruined the financial futures of who knows how many people who gave away everything on the strength of his word.

From the Christian Post:

Camping, 90, has made predictions about Judgment Day, Christ’s return and the end of the world for the past few decades – with the May 21, 2011, forecast receiving the most media attention. Each time the date passed, he did not admit to mistaking the timing but instead reasoned that the events happened “spiritually” rather than physically.

But once Oct. 21, 2011 – the day Camping said the world would be destroyed physically – came and went, the Christian broadcaster began to reevaluate his views about being able to calculate and know the exact date of the apocalypse.

“Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken,” Camping and Family Radio staff stated in their March letter. “We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking.

I found this article via The Thinking Atheist who wrote on Facebook, “Mr. Camping. Also…please pay back the millions you received in contributions, along with a personal, written apology to the citizens of planet earth. (Individually signed letters, please.)”

Sadly, I think the world will end before that ever happens.


Christian coffee house offers free brew…but not really

February 7, 2012

Getting patrons to pay their souls into Christ’s coffer is their overall ambition. Matt Brown and Matt Ball have opened a small coffee shop at Oklahoma State University and everything they need to run it has been supplied by a ministry:

Their coffee shop is part of a non-profit organization, Firehouse Ministries, whose goal is “to provide a safe environment to allow people to minister and be ministered to.” Brown and Ball say they took a “leap of faith” for a chance to give back to their community.

“If somebody needs prayer, we’ll pray with them. If they just need somebody to listen to them, we can do that. We’ll help them with their homework,” said Ball.

I don’t really have a problem with this, except it seems like blatant bribery. They’ll give free stuff but is taking Jesus going to be optional? Probably not.

Brown and Ball rely on the kindness of others and try to pass that message along to their patrons.

And Firehouse is prospering. Even the owners are surprised at how popular the cause has become in the small town of Bristow.

Prospering how? I take this to mean it’s not really free stuff. Is it free with a “give what you can” donation expected? Kindness of others: aka, we won’t tell you how much to pay for that bottomless cup of coffee but you’ll give us what you think it’s worth or Jesus will be upset with you. Let us prey…

Ah well, whatever. It’s a coffee house. Nobody’s being forced to use it. If people want their coffee with a side of Christ, it’s their choice. It wouldn’t be mine. I have a coffee maker and know how to make my own scones anyway.


Art dedicated to the Olympics is one thing, but Jesus statues?

January 27, 2012

I caught wind of this via New Humanist yesterday. The 2012 Olympics are being held in London this year. It’s been suggested that since Rio de Janeiro is hosting the next one, it might be nice if London pays homage to the giant Jesus statue overlooking that city by setting one of their own on Primrose Hill, in one of the posher areas of the city.

The logic of that baffles me, too. Sure, make note of the next host in some grandiose way if they want a show, but can’t they do it in a way that isn’t going to promote a religious icon? The Olympics encompass more than Catholic and Protestant athletes, after all. It’s for all creeds and nationalities (or at least the ones that have the money and/or facilities required to get athletes trained and fit enough to enter).

ArtLyst, a London art magazine, has an article about this. Turns out Brazil’s government would be forking out the money to build it. I find that interesting.

The proposal goes before Camden’s Town Hall planning department in February. The original consultancy was employed by Brazil’s tourist agency who held a public meeting to display the designs and this project was chosen as the most representational of the nation. People living in nearby Hampstead and Belsize Park have called the idea kitsch and completely out of character with the local Georgian and Victorian architecture. Some local residents have commented; “It may be quite upsetting and threatening for the non-christians and non-religious of us, out here.” But my favourite comment was; “This idea can only be described as a proposal for an outrageous act of ‘landscape holiganism’. If erected I only hope Banksy defaces it as soon as possible.”

And I add a link to Banksy’s website in case you’re as clueless as I am.

The short article then quotes a few people from the Friends of Primrose Hill committee, including chairman Malcolm Kafetz’s comments to the Camden New Journal regarding the move. He thought the location was a bad choice. For him, the statue would add nothing of worth to an area already popular because of its view and because he doesn’t think it’s representative of England or the Primrose Hill area itself. Others are willing to at least hear the proposal and find out if builders intend for the fiberglass installment to be permanent. If it’s a limited time only thing, they might let it pass.

Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor said he wasn’t sure a 30ft statue of Christ with his arms outstretched was quite what the area needed. He added: “If they want to put something on the hill I think they need to get some more original ideas. This sounds a bit like some marketing brainstorm which hasn’t been thought through.”

Camden New Journal reported that some emails had been obtained where residents had been told to keep the proposed plan hushed up so it could be revealed later in a big media splash. Unfortunately for the planners, there were some leaks. Then again, did they actually think it’d be possible to keep something like this a secret?

Judging by the Journal article, it sounds like it’s not a definite Go anyway. The Brazilian Tourist Board and Camden-based designers See Me, Hear Me, Feel Me Ltd. have to fill out applications like anyone else, which leaves a bit of room for requests to be later denied. We shall see, I guess.


Creationist propaganda matters more than education in Kentucky

January 25, 2012

Based on were they want their money spent, at any rate. From Forbes:

In one of the most spectacularly mis-prioritized state budgets in recent memory, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D), is suggesting over $50 million in cuts to education – while preserving $43 million in tax breaks for the Ark Encounter, a creationist amusement park centered around a life-sized Noah’s Ark. The park is sponsored by Answers In Genesis, a non-profit organization that promotes a “literalist” interpretation of the Book of Genesis while promoting an anti-evolution (and other sciences) agenda.

There are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea.

Oh my non-existent god, are there ever. The author, Alex Knapp, hit on a few. Cuts to education only work if previous work has been done to reform the system first so standards can still be met even with less funding. Apparently that’s not the case here. Plus, the park is a luxury more than it is a necessity.

in a time of austerity, surely it makes most sense to eliminate wasteful subsidies first, rather than essential public services. Especially subsidies that are of dubious value to begin with, whether its this “Ark Park” or a football stadium.

I add a link because I didn’t know what he meant. Austerity is an economics term, a policy intended for cutting spending and increasing taxes in order to decrease debt. Public services often face cuts when governments go this route and education falls under that, unfortunately.

I agree on the “dubious value” of a creationist theme park (anywhere, not just Kentucky), but I suppose Kentucky is assuming the tourism dollars will make it worthwhile? Knapp notes that the move to give them a tax break is close to crossing a line – maintaining separation of church and state. P.Z. Meyers notes that a further $11 million is going toward infrastructure: “highway improvements for the Ark Park” itself. Hopefully properties other than the Ark Park benefit from that little windfall. That cash isn’t going towards their personal driveway and parking lot, right? Right?

Quoting Friendly Atheist now because he’s so succinct:

In summary, Governor Beshear has basically used $54,000,000 of taxpayer money to help the Biblical Ark Park. And he took $50,000,000 away from the education budget.

In other words, the Governor just took away $100,000,000 that could have gone toward educating people.

There’s no real education to be found at Ark Encounter. Mythology treated as fact is
what they offer. Mythology as entertainment is one thing, and probably a fun thing, but this gets sold as if it’s more true than anything science has taught humanity about our origins and existence. Add to that a government essentially encouraging this business to continue unabated and it equals a very serious problem for the future. It’s a pity education has to take a hit just so this junk heap can stay afloat.


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