There are three types of people in this world, each defined by their different responses to the question: “Do you want to go and see a movie where giant robots fight multiple Godzilla monsters?”

Type 1 will respond: “Hell yes! When can we go?” These people already have car keys in their hands, and are scratching at the front door like labradors who have just heard the word “walkies”. We will get to those people in a second.

Type 3 will respond: “Ummm… why would I want to see *that*?” Those people are safe. They are under the impression there is NO reason for them to see this movie, and they happen to be 100% correct. There are many other perfectly fine activities for these people to consume their time with, any and all of them will be far less painful to them than realizing what they have just spent money on.

The Type 2 group will respond with a tentative “Maybe,” and further questions such as “What is the story? Who is in it? Is anything else playing? Is there anything I should know about this movie before making the decision to see it or not?”

I would like to assure these people that they, too, are the wrong audience for this movie. If you have not received every single piece of information you need to know about this movie in the question “DO YOU WANT TO GO AND SEE A MOVIE WHERE GIANT ROBOTS FIGHT GODZILLAS?”, then you are not really supposed to go see this one. None of your questions will be answered, and you will leave the theater with more questions than when you went in. Questions like “Why?” and “What the hell just happened to my face?”

Let me explain: a giant robot just had sex with it. That’s what just happened. You’re either “with” that, or you’re just not.

Let us now return to the Type 1 people. They are the audience Guillermo del Toro has in mind for this movie, and I have a special message for them.


Attention, dear friends: as you already know, this is a movie about giant robots fighting Godzilla monsters. But I must warn you: there are several moments in this movie during which there are NO giant robots on the screen fighting Godzilla monsters. Not a single one.

At those times, you must not be scared; be patient, and your patience will eventually be rewarded by more giant robots fighting Godzilla monsters. Now let’s go buy some candy and soda for you! Remember to go potty before the movie starts!

And give me those keys. You can’t drive, silly!


Exodus: fleeing from themselves

Earlier today news broke that Exodus International, the “gay cure” ministry that provided support for the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, was “shutting down” and offering an apology of some sort from Alan Chambers, President of the organization.  And the apology struck me the wrong way, and it’s been bothering me all day, so I have to write about it.

Specifically, this part:

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage.

Among all the quote-apologies-unquote that the letter included, this was the part that stood out.  Because this is the same old “love the sinner, hate the sin” horseshit.  Here is someone who is supposed to be apologizing for the shame that his organization has caused; for the self-hatred, the trauma and embarrassment and fear it has caused in people who were genuinely confused and looking for help, and were instead told that they were sinners and broken and undeserving of love.

And yet the one thing he won’t apologize for is for continuing to believe the exact same beliefs that are the root of ALL that shame, the reason for the self-hatred and the fear.  He just doesn’t get it: the reason suicide rates among gay teens are so high is precisely BECAUSE of those beliefs that he still embraces, which leads them to be cast out from their families and rejected from their peer groups.  His “deeply held biblical beliefs”, the element that is the absolute core issue at stake, the beliefs that lead him to the conclusion that LGBTQ people are broken and need to be fixed, that they are sinners who need to change: those biblical beliefs that led him to join Exodus International in the first place… those are things he won’t apologize for.  He still believes them, and feels no need to change them.  And is there any reason to believe that his “new ministry” will be founded on beliefs that are any different than the ones he refuses to apologize for?

In spite of his apology, which he presumably believes is heartfelt, he has completely missed the point.  And now that Exodus International is shutting down, they will be launching a new ministry that is “more welcoming” to LGBTQ folks.

You have to consider the context: Exodus International and its members have probably ALWAYS considered themselves “welcoming” to LGBTQ folks.  That is, welcoming them into the therapy that is supposed to “cure” them so they can no longer be sinners and broken and deserving of punishment and definitely not deserving of equal rights.  Do you really think that this new transformed organization is going to start working to defeat DOMA and fighting for same-sex marriage?  Or is this just a re-branding exercise after the board of Exodus came to realize how much they had poisoned the well?  If the board has been discussing this for a whole year before coming to the conclusion that they needed to shut down and launch a new ministry, wouldn’t they already have had a little time to set up their new website and help people understand what the new direction will be, instead of a “coming soon!” web page that contains zero information?  Look for Chambers to make the TV show rounds in the next few weeks, making a big deal and raising publicity and awareness, and yet providing very little insight into what he intends to do to fix the trauma that his organization caused, or how his new organization will be the same in all but name.

Imagine if your favorite bully came to you during one afternoon at recess and offered an apology.  “I’m sorry for all the times I stuck your head in the toilet.  I realize that my beliefs that you were a four-eyed nerd who deserved to be punished caused you some pain.  By the way, I still believe you are a four-eyed nerd who deserves to be punished, and that you don’t deserve the lunch money that I take from you, but I promise I’m going to change my name now, and I’m going to find a way to take your money that is less hurtful to you.  And from now on I will be more welcoming and friendly to four-eyed nerds who have to give me their lunch money.”

Now imagine that this bully had caused you so much pain that you had been led to consider suicide.  Imagine that this bully HAD ALREADY LED OTHER PEOPLE TO COMMIT SUICIDE.  Imagine if this bully had traveled to another schools in the past to help show other bullies how best to lead other people to suicide.  Imagine that in his apology to you, the bully crowed about the “thousands of people” his bullying had “positively affected.”

In an interview with the LA Times, Chambers said last week “We need to change the way we do things.”

Not WHAT we do.  HOW we do it.

“I’m sorry for what I did, but I’m not sorry for the beliefs that led me to do them.”


If you truly understood the reasons you should be sorry, Mr. Chambers, you would understand why your “apology” should taste like the ashes of the dead in your mouth.

The scandal was in 2001, today we just see the results of ignoring it back then

I am still uncertain about my position on the recent NSA/PRISM “scandal”, mostly because (a) we knew that things like this would happen because of the Patriot Act, we warned against it at the time because of EXACTLY this type of situation, and yet it passed overwhelmingly and has been re-extended by huge margins ever since.

But also: (b) I’m not convinced that it’s as bad as the people WHO HAPPEN TO BE THE ONES WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM HYPING IT THE MOST are… hyping it up as much as they possibly can. Especially when those hyping it up the most as a huge scandal are the people who voted for it to be allowed in the first place <ahem>members of Congress who seemed to be OK with the program and its sweeping powers when there was a different President in place AND when other evidence of the program came out in 2006<sub-ahem>anyone remember wiretapping?</sub-ahem></ahem>

Don’t get me wrong: I do take, and have always taken, the position that the Patriot Act was hugely misguided, as is the NDAA. Both were railroaded into law by fear, and trample significantly on important civil liberties in order to provide some tiny semblance of security theater that makes us feel safer without actually being so. What I don’t understand is the pearl-clutching outrage of people who are shocked… SHOCKED that the government actually USED the powers that they were given to legally use, and by all accounts seem to be using within the confines and constraints that they were given by law, approved by your legislators.

If you are outraged and shocked right now because of the NSA doing what they were legally enabled to do, then I suggest you must have been in a continuous state of shock and outrage for the past 12 years, because this is exactly why we were against the Patriot Act back then.

That being said, if more information about actual abuse comes out I am free to change my stance. But as of right now, I see the side trying their damnedest to turn this into a scandal happens to be the same group who has been obsessed with turning the Benghazi attack into some massive coverup by a President who hates the troops and is a secret Muslim. The other side (who by all accounts, actually know what they are talking about) seems to be far more rational and reasoned about the discussion. See this article as an example, from Vanity Fair writer Kurt Eichenwald, an author and self-described civil libertarian who spent a long time post-9/11 investigating and publishing a book about the NSA data-mining programs.

The core takeaway, which has now turned into a significant crux issue of the whole conversation, is that the reported “direct access” the NSA had/has to Google/Facebook/Yahoo/etc. did NOT mean they could tap into those companies’ servers whenever they wanted to retrieve information. It means that when the government requested information, those companies put that information onto specific shared servers (FTP servers, in Google’s case) that contained only that information that was requested and approved. It appears that these companies did their best to ensure that the data being requested was done so legally and with the appropriate approval as well.

To me, those two scenarios are VERY different. I expect the second one to happen: it’s good security practice. The “direct access” that was implied in the original article was spun to imply that first one, which is incorrect, misleading, and hype intended to spin up outrage.

Which is exactly my point. The government asking for data from a company, with legally-approved methods, processes and set of approvals for doing so, and getting ONLY that data on an intermediate server that is isolated from the rest of the company’s data? That’s the process I would expect to see, and is a normal part of law enforcement.

Again, don’t get me wrong: do I hate the Patriot Act and the NDAA with all my tiny black and shriveled heart? Yes, yes I do. Do I hate the government snooping on everyone’s conversations? Absolutely, I do. In addition, the “what do you have to hide?” responses to this issue terrify me: if the government showed up at your door and demanded this information in person, you would be up in arms, and rightfully so. I don’t want the government snooping on me without significant protections, without due cause, without a WARRANT.

But when you give the government the legal right to do so, you give up your right to be indignant about it when they actually take you up on the offer.

Scalia’s “belief” in molecular biology?

A great 9-0 ruling from the Supreme Court: you can’t patent natural, unchanged genes. A huge victory for cancer patients, among other people. It does leave an opening for modified genes to be patentable, but does not necessarily imply that they can be.

But here’s the weird thing: Justice Scalia felt he needed to submit a separate, one-paragraph concurring opinion in which he expressed that he was “unable to affirm [details of molecular biology in the main ruling text] on my own knowledge or even my own belief.”

Did Justice Scalia just put out an opinion specifically so he could point out that he doesn’t *believe* in molecular biology? I mean, I understand him saying that the molecular biology detailed in the opinion is not something he is clear on, but saying he doesn’t *believe* in it?

Maybe molecular biology can’t be reconciled with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution?

Electronic surveillance and freedom of speech

Via the EFF and a UN report: the “chilling effect” that electronic surveillance has on a country’s freedom of speech.

“The right to privacy is often understood as an essential requirement for the realization of the right to freedom of expression. Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can both directly and indirectly limit the free development and exchange of ideas. … An infringement upon one right can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.”

Here’s the interesting implications of this discussion: it’s been established that people change their behavior when they know they are being observed. It’s so embedded in our psyche, that just being aware of a pair of googly eyes pasted on a wall can change the way we act and the opinions we express. I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not.

When the government is pursuing ridiculous attempts to weaken cryptography and security to allow for wiretapping, as if we learned no lessons during the cryptography developmental years of the 70s and 80s, the concept of limiting our technological development in order to allow authorities to keep an eye on our communications should be completely unacceptable. Instead of weakening our protections, we should be regulating governmental surveillance even more using these same technologies, and protecting the free expression of opinion as strongly as we can, strengthening laws and legal standards wherever we can.

The end of a most awesome day.

At the end of what has been a most awesome day, I have a wish: it’s that the people who stood opposed today may some day change their hearts and come to experience the happiness that we did, when love won the day.

I wish them peace, acceptance, understanding and some day: love.

I try to not be happy because they lost, but I won’t lie and say I’m not. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy we won, I’m ecstatic that we won.  But I am also, just a little, happy that they lost. Not proud of that, and I’m still working on it.

I had a few conversations with them today. Even as an atheist, I can recognize that there are different interpretations of the Bible: some of them come from love, others come from a dark place of anger, hatred and lashing out at what they don’t understand. Those there today at the Capitol were from the latter group.

I hope they can turn away from that someday. It’s not good to live in that kind of pain, and the contrast between the suspicion and anger in their faces and the joy, love and openness that overwhelmed the rotunda today was stark. I am reminded of the phone conversation I had last year with a mother who had rejected her son because he was gay, and hadn’t spoken to him in years, because her pastor told her it was the right thing to do.

May you never have to feel that kind of pain in your life, as that she held locked up in her heart for who knows how long, as that she spoke of through gritted teeth to a stranger on the phone. Maybe today she can recognize the change the rest of her state is going through, and start down her own path away from that pastor’s terrible, painful advice. There are plenty of faith congregations who would welcome her AND her son with loving, open arms.

The world is terrible, because we make it so.

The world is beautiful, because we make it so.

Today just happened, because you and I made it so.

So here’s the thing…

So here’s the thing…

'cause this will happen.

’cause this will happen.

I can’t believe it was less than 24 hours ago that I posted my previous note starting with that phrase. I can’t tell you how nervous I was last night. I slept hardly at all, and what sleep I had was filled with dreams about being in debate class. The concept of arguing and defending a spirited point of view was obviously on my mind.

And yes, I know we still have to get through the Senate vote on Monday, and yes it still needs to get signed by Gov. Dayton, and yet we have to wait ALL the way until August 1st for weddings to start happening… but it’s a pretty done deal, folks.

I also can’t believe it was almost exactly two years ago that we were dragged into a fight we didn’t ask for. Belligerent busybodies who weren’t content with the fact that a group of my dearest friends already had limited rights, tried to up the ante in the dying days of their worldview and cement their discrimination further into law, before the younger generation could come along and ruin it all with their more “liberal attitudes” about who among us has the right to declare what kind of love is acceptable. The tide is turning, let’s get the boats out quickly.

“What are YOU going to do?” they challenged us. “We’ve already won 30 states before yours, there’s nothing YOU can do about it.”

Yes, there was. We committed to not becoming number 31. We decided to become number 12 instead.

We didn’t ask for that challenge; but we were certainly up to it. Months and months of phone banks, training, personal conversations, door-to-door canvassing, talking to strangers and friends and coworkers alike, and hours upon hours of registration and get-out-the-vote activities. And in one awesome night last November, at about 2am, the first part of that challenge was met, and turned back.

And this afternoon, this awesome, awesome afternoon, our full response was decisively heard:

DO. NOT. Mess. With. My. Friends.

We didn’t ask for the fight, but you shouldn’t confuse a peaceful disposition with cowardice. Don’t assume that just because we prefer to avoid the confrontation means we’ll flee when you provoke it. And don’t hit unless you’re willing to learn what it means when we defend ourselves.

In this case, it means that we’ll turn a state around from having no marriage equality to full marriage equality in two years. I’m guessing that somewhere tonight, those who proposed and supported the amendment in 2011 hoping for an easy win, are staring at a pretty large hole in their foot and wondering what the hell happened.

The numbers game

So here’s the thing: the vote tomorrow in the Minnesota house on HB 1054 (the Marriage Equality bill) matters to my friends, because it affects them and their relationships personally. It matters to the state, because it affects how it will treat these couples. It matters to me, because (insert nicer way of saying “fuck the haters” here). But it also matters to the country, because it’s going to have a significant psychological impact on the mental state of the Supreme Court Justices as they weigh the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.

It's time.

It’s time.

Both Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg have expressed reservations in both oral arguments for these cases as well as interviews (see the March 11th New Yorker) about pushing society too fast: large-scale social change shouldn’t come from the courts. We can disagree on that perspective (I do): especially so when the courts are addressing civil rights injustices that shouldn’t even have to take into consideration whether the ruling is “popular” enough yet. But it’s a concern they have raised, and one they have to be mulling.

But if the change is already observed happening from the bottom up, then this reservation evaporates. I don’t know what the magical number of states is to convince Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg that change is already happening; but I do know that 2 is better than 1, and that 12 is better than 11 (plus the District of Columbia, of course).

So this may very well have a significant domino effect, and all within this year, within a period of months.

We know that change is happening, we’ve felt it happen in Minnesota over the past year. Hell, we MADE it happen, you and I, with our phone calls and our conversations and our VOTES. But we’ve also seen pushback and defeats in the last 12 months, in other states and in other court cases, all of which could make a conservative (in the traditional, non-political sense) judge rather wary of leading the charge for action.

So the question is: what happens if the number is 12, Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg? Is 12 enough to signal that you are no longer leading social change, but actually trying to catch up instead? 12 states is a quarter of the country, and means over 55 million citizens living in states where same-sex marriage is legal. We decide national elections by tiny fractions of those numbers.

Sandra Day O’Connor has recently and very publicly expressed regret at taking on Bush v. Gore in the 2000 elections. I hope that Ginsburg and Kennedy, in 12 years as they look back on the year 2013, don’t have to express similar regrets about incorrect decisions. We’ve come so far in just the past 12 months: think of how much further ahead we will be in 12 years, and how misguided a decision to delay social justice today will look then.

A loss tomorrow does not doom the Prop 8 and DOMA cases for our side. It doesn’t even cause a major dent in the reality of marriage equality for Minnesota, in the long run. Hell, it’s just a delay either way.

But 12 looks like a really good number to me right now. What number looks good to you?

The Ultimate Martyrdom Myth

My interview with Notre Dame Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity Candida Moss, author of “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom” (buy here) for Minnesota’s Atheists Talk radio show is now available streaming on this site, downloadable, or subscribable via podcast or iTunes.

I did miss the opportunity to press a little bit further on the discussion around how Biblical scholars determine that some martyrdom stories are myths. In essence, they seem to use questions such as the following to calculate the level of trustworthiness of a given story:

– Were the stories written by non-eyewitnesses, long after the event?
– Do the stories seem to be retellings, recastings or appropriations of older mythic stories from other cultures?
– Do the stories contain anachronisms? References to ideas, institutions, people or places that were not current at the time of the events but were at the time of the writing?
– Are there multiple, inconsistent versions of the story, changing over time?
– As the stories change, do they become more hagiographic? Do they make the “star” of the story even more saintly, the acts even more miraculous?
– Do we lack confirming testimony from other, independent sources, of the events or people in the story?
– Do the stories seem designed to push a specific orthodoxy, perhaps against an idea of the time that was becoming popular but others wanted declared heretical?

Now my question (which I did ask in the show) was that all of these issues above, when asked of the traditional 4 Gospels, have an affirmative answer. Consider for example the transition from Mark to Matthew to Luke to John, where Jesus goes from a suffering, questioning crucifixion (“Why hast thou forsaken me”) to a stoic, accepting death (“It is finished”) over the years between which the books were written, multiple decades after the events in question.  A stoic death was very admirable among martyr myths in antiquity, as we see in Socrates’ case or in the disgust over the sniveling death of a Trojan prince at Achilles’ hand in Homer’s Iliad.  This example easily covers 4 or 5 of the points above, with a potential 6th depending on how much of the crucifixion story was addressed specifically at, e.g.,  the Marcionites and Ebionites.

So why did scholars (such as the Bollandists), trying to weed out whether the martyrdom myths were true or not using the criteria above, not end up casting an eye towards the Gospel books and deciding that there was probably as little proof of those being true as there is of many of the apocryphal martyrdom stories?  Was it only because the “original” Christian martyrdom story was untouchable by definition?  It would seem to me to be a prime candidate for this kind of analysis and (given the results from scholarly responses to the questions above) eventual rejection as apocryphal, for the exact same reasons the Bollandists reject so many martyrdom stories from the first centuries.

I really enjoyed having Professor Moss on the show, and I’d love to invite her back to talk about this.

Re-defining marriage

Bill Donohue is the president of the Catholic League. I don’t claim that he speaks for all Catholics, since I know too many Catholics who disagree with him, but he claims he does; for some reason all the media keep inviting him back on to their shows as an expert on the topic when same-sex marriage comes up.

And this interview is a fascinating insight into his mind, the mind of the (not-insignificant) number of Catholics who DO agree with him, and the mind of the people presenting the cases before the Supreme Court regarding marriage.


“The whole purpose of marriage is to have a family. It’s not about making people happy. It’s not about love.”


Now let’s compare that to the brief presented by the petitioners for the Hollingsworth v. Perry case (regarding Prop 8) before the Supreme Court: in that brief, the lawyers representing the group of citizens that stepped in to defend Prop 8 after California officials refused to, argued that the state’s interest in marriage was procreative only. In other words, the state should only be interested or involved in marriage in the sense that it creates more citizens for the state. A similar argument to the above, a slightly different angle, but with the same foundation: marriage is not about love.

The Prop 8 brief doesn’t mention the word “love” once in 65 pages.

And compare that to Paul Clement’s brief in U.S. v Windsor supporting the DOMA in the other same-sex marriage case currently before the SC: marriage, as described in that case, is for taking care of “whoops! babies!”. The argument used in that brief was that marriage is necessary NOT because people love each other, but because two people with particular combinations of sex organs might accidentally produce an unplanned baby, and therefore they should be married in order to provide stability for that baby. And that is ultimately the state’s primary interest in marriage: generating more citizens.

The DOMA brief doesn’t mention the word “love” once in 60 pages.

Never mind that the only reliable way to have a stable family and give it the highest opportunity for happy, healthy children is for that family to be based on the love of the two people that were there first.

I would like to ask Bill Donohue and Paul Clement exactly how many marriage vows he has heard in his lifetime that don’t include the word “love” somewhere. I wonder how many marriage ceremonies has he attended where no one says “look how in love they are!”, instead preferring the utilitarian “see how fertile they look! They will be very procreatively productive!  Won’t the state be happy!”

I was married for 9 years before we had a kid, but apparently those years I spent falling in love with my wife over and over don’t count as really being married.  And the years we spent building a stable, healthy relationship into which a child could be welcomed and raised were probably just a waste of time because we weren’t popping out kidlets like ping-pong balls to keep the state happy.

But marriage isn’t about love.

Let that sink in.

“The whole purpose of marriage is to have a family. It’s not about making people happy. It’s not about love.” – Bill Donohue.

A man who just happens to be divorced, by the way: a state of affairs (not pun intended) that is mentioned multiple times in the Bible as being completely unacceptable to God, if that’s who your authority on moral issues is.  I assume it is for Bill, but I have to wonder.

The people fighting against same-sex marriage cannot use religion as the basis for their legal arguments, since they would run into obvious separation of Church and State issues by doing so.  So they have to come up with alternative, secular reasons, and the well there is… pretty dry.  So the argument becomes that the whole reason marriage exists is so that citizens can become baby-making machines to benefit the state apparatus, presumably as a source of new tax income.

And yet somehow it’s same-sex couples who are redefining what marriage means.