Alien claims connection to Jesus, hits a woman with a shovel

June 25, 2012

Apparently bath salts were involved. Robert William White, 20, was arrested in Greendale, California after his ingestion of bath salt-infused soda helped him come to the conclusion that he was an alien being with a direct line to Jesus and needed to kill a 77 year old woman. Initially the shovel had been used in an attempt to kill birds but once the woman told him to stop, witnesses say, he hit her over the head with it.

White then made off into his nearby apartment building, where he was holed up for around an hour, before police used a key to enter the flat and subdue and arrest him.

“He seemed completely out of sorts,” Northwest Glendale Police Lt. Bruce Fox told the Glendale News.

White was screaming incoherently and “not following orders,” he added. He also allegedly swung twice at an officer, but his punches were blocked.

The woman, whose name wasn’t released, was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was treated for what police described as non-life-threatening injuries.

That’s good, at least. Hell of a shock for her, though. I can’t imagine what it must be like for White, to need a hit so bad that bath salts seem like a good way to get it.

Old news: it’s hard to be atheist in Indonesia

May 22, 2012

Via the Jakarta Globe, January 19, 2012:

An Indonesian civil servant who posted “God does not exist” on his Facebook page has been taken into police custody for his own protection after he was badly beaten.

The man, identified as Alexander, 31, now faces the prospect of losing his job, or even being jailed, if he fails to repent and accept one of six official state religions.

Blasphemy carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Atheist Ireland felt like taking a stand over this. Their own country passed a blasphemy law in July of 2009. While briefing local politicians about the Indonesia case, they implied that Ireland is partially to blame for it. Two Senators agreed and in February of this year, they asked their government leaders to support Alexander Aan. Said Jillian van Turnhout:

While I fully support the repeal of this law, I do not believe the intention of the blasphemy legislation introduced by Mr. Dermot Ahern in 2009 was to infringe upon the rights to freedom of expression, religion, belief and conscience in Ireland. Nor do I think it is a desirable consequence that our law is being used to support such infringements, including against Christian religions in Islamic countries anywhere else in the world.

The Guardian picked the story up again in May. The article states that the country runs with a state philosophy of pancasila, which requires all citizens to pick one god (or set of gods) and believe in that completely. Aan’s initial refusal to choose to be Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Confucian or Hindi might encourage more people to reject every religion and thus become uncontrollable individualists without ethics or morals, so he has to be beaten by mobs and imprisoned as a warning for everyone.

While his lawyers estimate there may be up to 2,000 atheists in Indonesia, “there’s no real way of knowing”, Fajrin says. The repercussions are too dangerous.

According to Andreas Harsono, a local human rights activist, Aan’s case is just one of a growing number of examples of religious intolerance across Indonesia, ranging from harassment to mob and arson attacks against groups such as the Baha’i, Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims – sometimes ending in death.

Last year, the local Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 244 acts of violence against religious minorities – nearly double the 2007 figure.

Official state religions there might be, but some are preferred over others. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has closed 80 Christian churches a year since he took power in 2004. Aan has “converted” to Islam – he’d been going to mosques as a kid with his family even though he didn’t believe – and issued a public apology for his Facebook post, too. Unfortunately, the Islamic Society Forum still calls for the death penalty in this case; too little, too late.

He looks out the window to where a group of inmates are celebrating their Sunday by performing karoake to drum’n’bass in the dusty prison yard, most of them smoking, all of them barefoot. “I only want to see a better world and help create a better world,” he says. “If I cannot … then I would prefer to die.”

While he has Atheist Alliance International and Britain’s Council of ex-Muslims in his corner, it probably won’t affect the predicted grim outcome. His country will make an example out of him, and then atheists the world over will have to double efforts to try to stop this from happening again. But it will probably happen again. None of those guys will wake up the next morning and think they made a mistake. No, they’ll think they did Allah’s will and will pat themselves on the back for it, then go after some other person who dares to think or dress a bit differently.

I feel for him.

“You are what you eat” – yes, but you don’t eat video games

May 16, 2012

Fox News reports on two different video games released on the same day, one from Lightside Games focusing on Jesus’ life and the other being the demon haunted Diablo III, a product from Blizzard Entertainment.

The timing was not lost on Brent Dusing, CEO of Lightside Games.

“Both games immerse the player, and you are what you eat,” Dusing said in a statement. “While one game goes one direction, ‘Journey of Jesus: The Calling’ players walk in the Messiah’s steps, in an authentic experience of Israel in Christ’s time.

Diablo III sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned up to eleven, an adventure pitting a “barbarian, witch doctor, wizard, monk or demon hunter” against the fiends from Hell with the fervent hope that the “good” guys will triumph.

Journey of Jesus is free to Facebook users, so it probably will get a lot of play – by those who already claim to be Christian (whether they dutifully follow Christ’s footsteps or not). I suspect it’s going to be of little interest to people from other religions so wouldn’t be a useful tool for converting them. And the atheists who try it will probably try to pick it apart as they play, not use it as a means of learning any real history about that era.

When I was younger, I thought there was something to the notion that violent video games make people violent but then I came around to the notion that people who already have a proclivity towards violence are the ones more likely to be interested in playing those games. Research is starting to swing that way, too.

What the research does show, in a nutshell, then is this:

Teens who are already angry or aggressive likely should be limited in their playing of violent video games
Teens should not play M-rated games
Girls especially should not play M-rated games
Video game is an important social development interaction for boys. Parents should keep this in mind when taking such time away from them in punishment.
And of course, all things in moderation. Playing a video game for 6 or 8 hours straight is unhealthy behavior at any age.

I’ve played my share of “shoot ‘em ups” and I’ve yet to become a violent offender. That’s anecdotal, I admit, but still true. I’m not much of a gamer anyway. The Man loaned me his old Nintendo and I still can’t get Mario past the first few levels. I like puzzle games, or board and card more.

I never play the games on Facebook but for kicks I signed up for the app so I could try it out. I decided to play as a woman and already I’ve cut a bunch of wood, picked a fight with a Roman and witnessed Jesus getting baptized. Whee. What childish fun. If I play again, I’ll update you on my progress.

“Don’t be that guy!” ads target offenders not victims

September 30, 2011

Rebecca Watson’s “Elevator Guy” debacle over the summer highlighted a problem women and men need to deal with, not just in atheist circles but across our communities. I just learned this week that there’s an anti-rape ad campaign going on in Canada and posters hanging up in men’s rooms of bars and other places are inadvertently following in Watson’s footsteps here. I heard about it on CBC on the drive home from work one day and a quick poke of the interwebs finds me an article about the launch of these ads in Edmonton back in November. Chloe writes for Feminsting and her source is an article that no longer exists via her link, alas.

In a series of posters, it addresses the legal reality that a woman who is extremely drunk, or even passed out, cannot consent to sex. With messages like “just because she isn’t saying no… doesn’t mean she’s saying yes ”and“ Just because you’re helping her home… doesn’t mean you get to help yourself,” the campaign targets “opportunistic offenders,” as Edmonton Police Superintendent calls them. According to the Vancouver Sun:

The three advertisements were chosen after focus-group testing showed the messages were clearly understood by, and resonated with, young men.

Campbell said she hopes the “graphic” and “blunt” messages make a real difference in educating young men and reducing sexual assaults.

A friend of mine dropped a tweet on Facebook yesterday about Saskatoon’s Premier Fine Wines, Spirits & Specialty Foods Festival going on now. Cammi noted,

Just left the wine premiere festival. great time, not sure how I feel about a rape whistle as a keepsake though.

Too bad she didn’t mention which booth provided it, or if it was something being given to women on their way in. I wonder what guys would have been getting.

I’ve never been raped. I’m starting to feel incredibly lucky because I can say that. A random check of statistics on sexual assault led me to some grim numbers.

Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
About 50% of sex assaults occur on dates
60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17

And it goes on.

I’ve certainly been in positions where, had the company been different and less respectful of my right to consent, I’d be counted in those numbers. I’ve been stupid in bars ever since I was old enough to legally be in one. That’s 19 in Saskatchewan. I’m 37 now. Maybe “lucky” doesn’t begin to cover…

Chloe thinks this campaign shows promise.

This kind of approach is the only kind that can truly end sexual assault. After all, in the words of Karen Smith of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, “as long as society directs prevention strategies at women, we all stop looking at what the real problem is – the perpetrators.”

I’m going to hold off on the applause for a bit yet. I don’t really know how ads like this will impact behaviour. Will they be taken to heart by the jerks truly in need of the lesson, or will they just freak out the inept, geeky flirters and result in a lot of lonely hearts going home defeated before they even get a chance to start a chance romance?

Over the summer, dozens of cities held SlutWalks. The events were prompted by shitty comments a police constable in Toronto made regarding victims of sexual assault. Saskatoon hosted one and some Freethinker friends and I were among the hundred or so hollering down the blocked off streets about respect and the like. One of these friends is one of those women born for cleavage, short skirts and hooker boots. She loves the style and how she looks, and her husband (and others) do as well. I almost wonder how we wound up friends, as I have my ample cleavage hidden usually and tend to keep my pants on. She’s sexually vocal, as well, not one who feels she should be ashamed of her carnal interests. I certainly admire her for that but have, on a few occasions, wondered how close she’s gotten to becoming a statistic, too. I’d hate to see her get hurt simply on account of how she’s dressed and false perceptions on the part of other people in terms of what kind of person they think she is. I think that’s badly worded, but hopefully understandable.

It is completely unfair to train girls and women into thinking that they have to hide themselves in public lest randy men lose all sense of themselves if they see a little skin or hair. Why should it be up to women alone to protect themselves from predators? Why shouldn’t guys carry more of the responsibility on their shoulders?

I don’t know. What do readers think? Can a campaign like this change much or is it more likely to be a fart in the wind?

Reminder: it’s Banned Book Week

September 29, 2011

Usually I’m more on the ball when it comes to book issues and support for abolishing censorship of the printed word.

The American Library Association has a list of the top 100 banned or challenged books for the past decade, but rather than copy the whole list, I’ll just list the ones I’ve read and some thoughts regarding.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

These books were runaway bestsellers not because millions of kids expected to get some magic lessons that actually work, but because they could identify with the issues characters faced. The importance of studying, how it feels to be unpopular, the desire to be special or impressively different, the power and risk of secret keeping, the need to stand up to the villains by uniting with friends and other allies. Useful things, all in all.

2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I only read one of them and it seemed like silly teenage fluff, mostly. Naylor opts for realism when she writes her fiction so we wind up with real teenage issues facing Alice and her friends, issues that affect the readers to greater or lesser degrees. How about that cute boy? When is the right time to have sex? My parents are driving me crazy! I had another fight with my best friend and I don’t think she likes me anymore…

3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

This was picked for our book club a while back. Peer pressure and the stress of trying to fit in come to a head in this one. It’s especially problematic as the readers learn of the impact certain teachers are having when it comes to picking sides, too. While it’s been years since I was a teen in school, I certainly recall the sense that there were teachers playing favourites sometimes, and unnecessarily picky against other students. It must have had an effect on the dynamics of student relationships, igniting resentment and envy and the like.

4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

This is a non-fiction book about a couple male penguins at a zoo who get the urge to co-parent a young one. Male penguins in the wild take an active interest in the raising of their young so why this had to become some oddity worth reporting on is somewhat beyond me. As is the freak-out of everyone the least bit homophobic. Ridiculous.

5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Life is full of choices and sometimes they’re all bad. I wonder about those who lack empathy when it comes to understanding what it might be like to be faced with that.

8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman

The trouble isn’t the fact that religions exist. The trouble is caused by the people who follow them and their leaders without once questioning their ambitions to make sure they’re truly understood and sound. I think the majority of people wouldn’t even know how to begin to think like that, especially when it comes down to differences between their faiths and scientific progress that continues to whittle away at cherished beliefs.

19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Rebellion is a part of growing up. There’s always going to be someone holding a measuring stick to gauge our successes and failures, but our harshest critics will generally be ourselves.

21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world free of stereotypes and racism but the best defense against them has to be a weapon in the minds of parents, educators, and other adult role models who can show kids how to treat others with respect in spite of it.

36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

It’s tough to challenge the status quo, especially when the damage being done to people in that society goes largely unnoticed by everyone else in that society.

43. Blubber, by Judy Blume

Fat should be a word as innocuous to use as blond or tall when describing someone’s personal attributes. It shouldn’t have negative connotations but when it comes to words in the English language, I can’t think of many that are more brutal and damaging to kid’s sense of self worth. I might have to read this book again, actually.

67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

The reasons why we do things matter. How many of our choices to act come from triggers leftover from conditioning in childhood, or propaganda we’ve taken to heart as older people? How much of our behaviour is a direct result of our evolution, and how much of it has to do with the societies we’ve built and what we decide to honour in them?

69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Books might burn, but if you light an idea on fire, it can light up a world.

88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

History is written by the winners, so if you have any choice in the matter, try to be on that side. Then again, when it does come time to choose sides, the ultimate winner isn’t necessarily going to be right. Decisions are made every day that may have consequences so far reaching yet completely invisible the moment the decision is made. How many plans have governments offered their people where it can be wondered decades later why people let things happen in the first place?

90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle

While I’d never claim love conquers all, the love people have for their families and friends helps immensely when it comes to overcoming challenges. Faith in people.

99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Everyone questions what they’re going through, especially when it’s puberty. Blume’s willingness to take a real issue like that and lay it out for her readers proves she’s one smart cookie. Kids might feel uncomfortable bringing up some concerns with a trusted adult so books like this are beneficial and worthwhile.

–edit 2:20 pm: added a few more lines to the stuff about Atwood’s book. Wasn’t keen on how I left it.

“Our nation is praying for a praying nation…”

July 25, 2011

Isn’t that a little bit like multiplying by zero?

The Christian Post reports on the aftermath of the tragedy in Norway where close to a hundred young people with political aspirations were killed and wounded after Anders Behring Breivik got it in his head to shoot people.

Police say they are sifting through the life details of Breivik to find answers as to his motives behind the murders.

“He describes himself as a Christian, leaning toward rightwing Christianity, on his Facebook page,” according to local authorities.

However, National Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said the postings “suggest he has some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views.”

I think that’s funny use of “however,” but maybe that’s just me. To me it comes across like the author’s intent is to insinuate that Breivik couldn’t have possibly been a True Christian because True Christians ™ never have right wing political viewpoints that are over the top and never say a naughty word about Islam.

If he called himself Christian then his beliefs were part and parcel of what made him who he was and shaped how he thought. His religious views had to have something to do with the reasons why he thought he was justified in slaughtering those people.

Breivik’s Facebook page, before it was taken down, also listed a number of classical philosophical and literary works as his favorite books. He posted True Blood and Stargate Universe as among his favorite television shows, and names World of Warcraft as among his favorite games.

Hopefully this isn’t added into the article to subtly warn the audience against the evils of sex and vampires, aliens pretending to be gods and online gaming.

I just have that kind of cynical mind, I guess.

A tragedy it was and Norway has lost a future that could have been a great one for their country. There’s a piece at Daily Kos that better covers just how big a loss this is for them. Politics should be a game for the young but few are really keen to get in there to play it so to have someone target those people specifically.. well, there are no words, really.

Edit: Christopher Hitchens found some good ones, though. Go read that.

‘fans who blessed themselves in an “aggressive” manner could also face jail’

June 22, 2011

I’m trying to figure out what that would look like.

The post title is a direct quote from this piece in the Daily Record about Scotland’s proposed anti-bigotry law getting fast-tracked.

The government are rushing their new anti-bigotry law through Holyrood in time for the start of the football season on July 23.

The worst offenders could get five years in jail for sectarian “offensive behaviour”, and “keyboard warriors” who use the internet to spread hate will face the same punishment.

The Bill will be passed next week, before MSPs begin their long summer holiday.

But the process of consulting, scrutinising and voting on a Bill normally takes a year.

And opposition MSPs and lawyers fear ministers are running the risk of passing a bad law by moving too fast.

I take it competition between teams and their fans get a little.. shall we say, excessive? If they think they need a law in place to stop people from grievously insulting the opposition… Assuming the threat of jail would work to stop those people or be enforceable enough in the first place, of course. Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham was interviewed about this by Tory John Lamont. She expects the law will also cover over-taunting with “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia.”

“No matter how inoffensive the action, it really does depend on the circumstances.”

Cunningham also warned that laws designed to crack down on internet bigots, in the wake of online death threats against Celtic manager Neil Lennon, could also catch traders selling offensive unofficial merchandise to fans.

Posters, T-shirts and videos featuring threats or sectarian material will all be outlawed after the new Bill is passed.

The minister’s comments highlighted the wide scope of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill.

And that point was reinforced by Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan.

He said that, under the terms of the new law, tens of thousands of fans were “definitely” committing crimes at grounds every weekend.

Are police going to go to the houses of every fan to round up the lawbreakers after the game? That would be the only way to get them all. Nets outside the pubs too, I suppose. Five years of jail time seems a little steep for insinuating the opposing fans are Catholic/Queen lovers, but I don’t live there. Maybe they’re just desperate to do what they can to avoid riots in the street, something Vancouver’s police force wishes they could’ve done when the city lost the Stanley Cup and fans lost their minds.

Lib Dem spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “What is becoming clearer by the minute is that this Bill is being recklessly rushed through parliament, with no time to consider whether it will actually make any difference to the fight against sectarianism.”

It’s starting to look like there’s not a hell of a lot of differences between sport and war anymore.

Random crap and one thing serious

June 7, 2011

I’m amused by the Noah’s Ark replica Johan Huibers hopes to show off in London during the 2012 Olympics. His ambition to get pairs of animals into it might be a hell of a lot more fun to watch than the actual Olympics. He’s never going to get 2 million species on there, either, so if he actually wants to prove Noah did just that, he might do the atheists a favour.

I saw a book at the library (name escapes me but I’ll see if I can find it again and update this part) written by the lead singer from Bad Religion about evolution, something he actually teaches at a university somewhere. The page I flipped to had a bit about atheism and why he doesn’t call himself an atheist. Atheism is the absence of something and he’d never describe his role in the band as an adrummer or the like. I think I can agree with him on that part. We’d probably have more success on the whole if we’d stick to calling ourselves humanists if it’s quality of life and education we care about more than lack of god-belief. Why focus on lack of god-belief? Something to consider there.

I’m puzzled by the currently anonymous man who claimed God told him to swim to Liberty Island. When the rescue boat caught up to him, he refused to get in, preferring to drown and fail God than get in a boat and live, but fail God. Someone managed to talk him out of marrow-numbing water in the end, though, and now he’s being psychologically evaluated. If they hadn’t caught him, would they have known that was his so-called motivation? If he’d just drowned out there, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a splash (sorry) in the headlines. How many other believers are wandering around doing dumb shit because they think God’s telling them to do it? Maybe all that’s saved them from being headlines, too, would be the (so far) non-life-threatening “suggestions” they’re following.

Last niblet: I read an article about South Africa and other areas around there where tribal healers are going as far as murdering people for body parts which they believe have mystical powers for healing once prepared properly. If that’s not bad enough, the cops are doing the least possible when it comes time to investigate the murders.

While speaking out about ritual murder in South Africa is uncommon, the reaction of authorities is predictable. There is reluctance at all levels to address the issue.

“At one stage the premier of this province said to me, shut up,” said one local.

Most tradition healers rely on herbs and animal parts. The healers know there are problems within their ranks, but getting authorities to take action remains the greatest challenge.

Maswanganyi, who has only recently completed her initiation, runs her practice in the backroom of a house in Soweto.

She says those who deal in human body parts discredit an important cultural profession.

“Actually it makes me sick, to tell the truth, because I don’t believe traditional healers are meant to do any bad. We are not meant to do any harm,” she said.

A little woo and hooey is one thing. Herbs and tinctures, whatever. Might not really fix anything but hopefully won’t make the sufferer worse either.. just be something to take while waiting for the body’s immune system to do its job. But this body part stuff… it’s not just appalling that healers might think that works but all their buyers do, too. That’s incredibly sad. Why can’t more be done to stop these human poachers?

Make #endrapeinwar a trending topic today

May 26, 2011

Today is a Day of Action and the Nobel Women’s Initiative is keen to bring this to attention:

Sexual violence takes place in every region of the world and includes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, mutilation, forced pregnancy and sterilization. Reasons for the use of sexual violence varies from region to region and conflict to conflict. It has been used as a tactic to terrorize communities suspected of supporting guerrilla forces, as a way of forcing populations off their lands and it has been used to punish political activism.

Follow along as we live-tweet a panel discussion on May 26 from 8:30 to 10 am EST from Ottawa, Canada. The panel will feature three Nobel Laureates and prominent activists from Sweden, Kenya and Canada, moderated by journalist Susan Riley of The Ottawa Citizen. We will be live-tweeting using #endrapeinwar at on our Twitter page, and taking questions from online followers.

Might be worth checking out.

Appalling news out of Uganda, too..

May 10, 2011

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders went to a gay-rights activist this time around. Some church leaders there have criticized the decision to award Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera.

The award, given by the Martin Ennals Foundation in honour of the first Secretary General of Amnesty International, will help the campaign for minority group rights in the East African country, said retired Anglican bishop Christopher Senyonjo. “It is appropriate and encouraging … We now know there are people who understand what we are suffering from and support our position,” he said on 6 May in a telephone interview with ENInews.

However, conservative church leaders criticised the award, saying it went to a “disgraceful ground,” where the recipient is not a hero. They have charged that homosexuality is evil; and is rejected by the scriptures and African communities.

“We are outraged … but not surprised. This is a public embarrassment …. There is nothing to celebrate,” said the Rev Martin Ssempa, a Pentecostal pastor, who has been crusading against homosexuality in Uganda. He accused the West of forcing its practices on Africa. “We pray that Kasha is changed so that she can help the other gay people change their ways,” he said.

A tabloid paper there called Rolling Stone recently ran a series promising to highlight the country’s top “homos” :

Two of them, including a gay activist named David Kato, were pictured on the front page, under the words “Hang Them.” Kato, who the paper said “spots [sic] a clean shaven moustache,” took Muhame and Rolling Stone to court, winning an injunction preventing Muhame and the paper from publishing any more pictures or information identifying gays. Three weeks later, shortly before I met Muhame, Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

According to the article, Muhame is considered a crank in some circles, but anti-gay sentiments are certainly running high there; as evidenced by the bill getting debated this week in their parliament.

The original bill included capital punishment for “serial offenders” of homosexuality and for active homosexuals who were in HIV-positive, or for cases of same-sex rape. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life in prison, and anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison, including landlords who rent rooms to homosexuals.

David Bahati, the bill’s author, told the AP last month that the death penalty provision was “something we have moved away from.”

Good, but not good enough. I don’t know if a petition with a million names will have any effect on the end result here, but go ahead and sign it if you want.


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