Give to the Max!

Since it’s a Give to the Max kinda day, let me remind you about the the little radio show we do on Sunday mornings, which you can listen to live or as a podcast here.  Last Sunday’s show is up!

It costs only a few hundred dollars to do each show, and we get some of that through advertising, and a lot of it through donations. Science, skepticism, secular values and education are our focus, and we think it’s a laudable goal. Would you like to help the program reach it? Then donate through the link below to MN Atheists for Give to the Max, and let us know how much of the donation you want to be specifically for the show.

Do it because WE LOVE YOU!


A moar perfect union… FIRST!!!1!

English: A Toyota in San Antonio, Texas, with ...

English: A Toyota in San Antonio, Texas, with a rear bumper sticker that reads “Secede”, which refers to Governor Rick Perry’s speech during which he mentioned “the right of Texas to secede from the union” during a “tea party” in Austin in April of 2009. I have blackened out the license plate to keep the vehicle’s owner anonymous. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know what is funnier: 90k people (many of them from outside Texas) signing a non-binding, relatively meaningless petition to have the state “secede from the Union”, or the media treating this as a serious event that demands attention, or people from Texas (a state of 25 million) expressing outrage and concern that this was a formal request that they have to reject otherwise it will somehow automatically happen.

Many a Facebook comment these past few days from Texas residents trying to find out who they have to contact to note that they disagree with the petition. The fact that it’s a petition on the White House website, which has a (self-imposed) rule to respond when the petition reaches 25k signers in 30 days, means little. The response can be “No, don’t be silly, and stop wasting our time.” There’s not even any sort of legal requirement for them to respond. Go ahead, create a petition on the website to force all secession proponents to “voluntarily self-deport”, go nuts. You might get on some FBI watch lists for your troubles, but trust me: you’ll be sorted under “LOL”, not under “Dangerous”.

How about fractal secession? People from Houston, Austin and El Paso have signed petitions on the same site asking to secede from Texas, if Texas gets to secede.

As to whether it’s the beginning of the process that would be required to actually secede… to be fair it’s not like there really *is* a formal one. The Supreme Court has rejected the argument that unilateral secession would be constitutional, but has noted that secession through revolution would… legal, I guess? Acceptable? It’s a weird situation when you ask whether the laws that govern a group of people apply to members of the group who want to leave. It’s not like the Constitution includes guidelines and directions for its own orderly dissolution.

However, even if ~600,000 or so signers of the various secession petitions are serious (and are indeed separate 600k individuals and not the same 5 people signing up every state on different computers), I’m not sure it’s terribly respectful of the democratic process to pretend that the entire Union can be dissolved based on the fact that a fifth of a percent of the population is angry that their guy didn’t get to be President. If angry online petitions from uninformed people had the force of law, Rush Limbaugh would be President of the Independent Patriotic Republic of Butthurtistan already.

Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee

Wipe our Debt

Hmmm. I… hmmmm.

This is brilliant, considering the goals of Occupy: use donations to buy customer debt for cents on the dollar, then just… forgive the debt. Then get the people whose debt is forgiven to donate to the Rolling Jubilee system (presumably in gratitude for no longer owing far more) and the cycle repeats.

This all depends on the pennies/dollars ratio that you can get, obviously, but by all accounts the collection agencies that buy consumer debt (and then harass the living daylights out of the debtor) pay a tiny fraction of the original debt. The Rolling Jubilee website is using a ratio of 0.05: a shiny nickel buys a dollar’s worth of debt, which is astounding.

A ginormous monkey wrench into the debt system would be to buy the debt, then sell it directly back to the debtor at the reduced rate.

The cycle of incentives this sets up is remarkably perverse, in a gleefully anarcho-screw-the-system kind of way, not to mention the moral hazard issues. It may very well be unsustainable in the long run, especially since pouring money into the debt purchasing pot will inevitably change the supply/demand ratio, raise the price of buying debt, making the solution less palatable… but think of the short run boost it could give the economy. Assuming of course the capital freed up by no longer servicing debt fees and interest is plowed straight back into the economic system, which if the focus is on the cheapest debt available (that with little hope of recovery) may be a stretch.

And at the same time, if this is a charity issue, that debt with little hope of recovery is in all probability the debtor that most needs charitable forgiveness. And here’s the kicker: the debt they are starting with is medical debt. Brilliant, since it sidesteps the moral hazard issue: it’s not like the people involved are going to run out and get butt implants now that the debt on grandpa’s bypass surgery has been forgiven. A disincentive to buy insurance? Possibly.  But tie this to the Affordable Care Act’s requirements to buy health insurance, and that disappears too.

I love these people for thinking about this.

Now, if the goal of the movement is to achieve real change in the financial institutions, then this is particularly pointless. This is debt with little hope of recovery that the banks are already willing to sell for cents on the dollar to collectors, and technically they would be perfectly happy to sell it to someone else: no more skin off their back than they had lost already, and therefore it gives them zero incentive to change.

But still interesting. Lots of pros and cons to think about. That’s what the internet is for. What do you think?

I guess some citizens are more united than others

Sheldon Adelson supported eight candidates for election, through SuperPACs on which he spent the largest amount of money any single donor has ever donated in political history. Millions and millions of dollars.

All of them lost.

All of them. ALL of them.


In February 2012, Adelson told Forbes magazine that he is “against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections.”

I’m so glad he he got his wish!

[edited 9:58pm Central]

And lest we forget, Karl Rove’s groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent more than $390 million on the 2012 election; the candidates it supported overwhelmingly lost.


Unaffiliated. And proud.

For religious conservatives, election was a “disaster”

Fastest-growing segment of the religious voting category? “Unaffiliated”.

That includes atheists, agnostics, and (to be fair) religious people who don’t identify with any particular organized religion. That’s fine with me; it’s the organized groups like Moral Majority and Focus on the Family that cause the problems and divisiveness.

The major social issues of this campaign (women’s healthcare, abortion, same-sex marriage) were all raised by right-wing religious conservatives. They tried to use them as wedge issues, and as cowbells to wake up their base and scare them to the polls.

But we’ve reached the point in the demographic evolution of this country where they no longer have enough people on their side to make this type of tactic work. And I, as an “unaffiliated” myself, could NOT be happier. Now maybe we can focus on working on real issues, instead of wasting our time defending ourselves and our basic rights, against fundamentalism.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY:

“Our message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

That is correct. Glad you figured that out. Hopefully you will learn the right lesson from this, and not just decide to double down and fight the future. You’re welcome to join us, we won’t hold the past against you.

Because SCIENCE!

My 4th favorite moment of election night, after the call of the election for Obama and against the two amendments, was Fox News calling Ohio.

Not because it was pretty much the moment Obama was re-elected (although that, admittedly, was pretty sweet), but it was the moment when the following happened:

Fox News: We officially call Ohio for Obama.

Karl Rove: Nuh uh!

FN: Umm.. yeah, pretty much.

Rove: NO!

FN: Why not?

Rove: Because REASONS! Also Dick Morris and I predicted a landslide for Romney, so there!

FN: OK, let’s check with the math nerds. Math nerds?

Math Nerd: Yeah, it’s a done deal. BOOM!

Rove: BUT nobody really knows yet! TEACH THE CONTROVERSY! You can’t prove it!

MN: WE can. Because SCIENCE!

Rove: <head explodes>

It speaks to and reflects a certain denial of reality that also lies behind other, scientifically overwhelming, proven scenarios: anthropogenic climate change and evolution being the two major ones, but there are many others, like stem cell research. The big denial topic late in this election season was the argument around “unskewing the polls”: it seemed obvious to anyone outside that particular information bubble that there was an active attempt to cherry-pick only the data that supported a pre-existing opinion, and discard the rest as “biased” for no other reason than “we don’t like it”. That’s what tripped up Rove, Morris and many others, and what was most surprising of all was how unaware these two “masters” of bubble-blowing were of the bubble they were found themselves in when reality refused to be spun.

But it’s a similar response by the people who claim there is no consensus around climate change, because they once got 400 scientists to sign a paper saying that there was still ongoing debate. Once you realize that (a) most (~60%) of the signers were scientists whose expertise or area of study wasn’t even related to climate, (b) some said the paper purposefully misrepresented what they actually believed, and (c) in response, the scientific community easily found 400 scientists just by looking at the experts named “Steve” who understood the matter better and agreed that climate change is happening… well, then you realized how cherry-picked the data was.

“Teach the controversy!” Sounds familiar? In this situation, Karl was making the case that, in spite of the fact that he didn’t have the data or the expertise to make the call, his opinion was just as valid as the science nerds’. Again, based on his shocked response, the surprise was finding out exactly how much he had come to believe that himself.

Unfortunately for them, and as much as they probably wanted to, neither Rove nor Morris could unskew the votes that were actually cast. It was a beautiful moment when Megyn Kelly asked whether the difference in opinion could be similar to the exit poll discrepancy in previous elections, and the response from the math nerds was: “this is raw cast vote data; it’s not our opinion, it’s not polls, it’s not something that can be poorly sampled. The math just won’t work any other way.”

Simple arithmetic won the election, and two spinmeisters lost a huge chunk of “credibility”, live, on the only network that gives it to them.


Remember, friends: no matter how the Marriage Amendment vote goes tomorrow, the opponents of same-sex marriage have already lost.

We see it in the slow dismantling of the DOMA. We see it in the death of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We see it in the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal… and with a small amount of luck we’ll see a few more states added to that number tomorrow.

Where I see it is in the fierce, passionate faces of the people at the Loring Park, All God’s Children Church, and the other offices of MN United. Words fail me as I try to express my admiration and my love for these people. The volunteers and workers at these locations have had, in the last year, THOUSANDS of personal, meaningful and deep conversations with their friends and their families, and with TENS OF THOUSANDS of their fellow Minnesotans. Incredibly difficult and wrenching conversations, some of them; others, inspiring and life-affirming and bold.

And every single one of those conversations has made someone’s heart move. Maybe just a tiny bit. Maybe a lot. As our President once described it, a person’s heart needs to evolve over time, and for some hearts it takes a little longer.

For some, it will never happen. But we now know that they can be safely ignored.

Because the evolution of the Minnesotan heart has now been kick-started. It was done against our will, because we did not ask for this fight. But just because we did not ask for it does NOT mean that we were going to back down. We have stood up: gay, lesbian, transgender, bi, straight ally, we have stood up in WAVES, god damn it. And instead of fighting back with the hatred, divisiveness and animosity that were the tools of those funding the lie-filled ads that crossed the airwaves, we have fought back with our stories.

Stories about coming out. About family members who have found love. About friends whom we love dearly, and the life-long partners we embrace because they do. About those who are no longer with us, but who showed us love that was as true, as deep, and as fierce and as passionate as any the world has seen. And stories about the respect that ALL of these people deserve, the responsibilities they wish to share, and the rights and protections they have been denied for far too long.

If the people who oppose this respect, who deny and reject this love, win tomorrow: may they enjoy their brief moment, for brief it shall be. They have no idea what they have started.

They are on the wrong side of history. They always have been. And history has just been kicked in the ass. No matter what happens on Election Day, on Nov. 7 we will all still be standing together, along with thousands of new, inspired allies.

And we will win. Love will win.

So much love to all of you, my amazed admiration to some of you, my deepest thanks to everyone at MN United, especially my stern taskmaster Alysa. Let’s bring this thing home.

Vote No in MN, vote Yes in ME, MD and WA, or kiss my ass.

Love and deceit

Since MN Archbishop Nienstedt seems to not have an issue supporting lies, Catholics in MN should feel no guilt at lying back to him when he asks if they voted “Yes”.

Money that could have been used to help those in need has instead been channeled by the Archbishop to fund ads that have been repeatedly called out for being misleading, inaccurate and grossly deceitful. His actions have led to division and acrimony within his church; even as he uses threats to silence those who disagree, he waves around the promise of hell for people who complain that their family members are damaged by his misguided conviction that HE is better at interpreting the opinion of God and the word of Jesus.

As an atheist, I am often told that there is no way I can perceive right or wrong, or understand what is moral, since I have “nothing” to guide me, no supernaturally-inspired book to serve as my moral compass. If so, the Archbishop’s actions must be astoundingly immoral, since even I, with my limited, godless and unbiblical eyes, can see how broken and wrong, harmful and deceitful they are.

So MN Catholics: feel free to lie right back at him. Tell him what he wants to hear… but Vote No at the ballot box on Tuesday.