Damned Hippie

I'm a goddamn ray of sunshine.

Month: October, 2011

Kham S. Ung 1972-2011

The Skeptics’ Guide to Government lost one of its members today. Kham Ung died at the University of Nebraska hospital in Omaha on October 20, 2011. I had only known him for a few months, but I can tell you he was very good natured with a wonderful, snarky sense of humor.

From his bio written for the sggov website:

Kham S. Ung is the Writer, Director, Producer and Co-founder of
Shuriken Productions; an independent film production company that produces movies, short-film, and documentaries. But before all of that, Kham S. Ung is a first-generation immigrant from Laos that grew up in small town rural Iowa and attended Iowa State University and is currently enrolled in the MBA program at Upper Iowa University, and has worked as an engineer for 15 years for many Fortune 500 companies as an independent consultant.

Kham is a rock-star in his own mind and envisions a world in which money, women, and power are lavishly thrown at his feet.

He is sorely missed, both as a collaborator and as a friend.


Worst. Christmas. Ever.

JT Eberhard recently wrote a post about an atheist activist who was made to say grace during the holidays by her family. It made me think of my own holiday grace story.

The day after Christmas, my husband and I drove to his uncle’s country cabin by the lake for the in-laws’ holiday dinner. I never had much in common with my in-laws, but I tried to be friendly. Toasty garage, toasty food, a toast to gathering with family. Halfway into my third glass of wine, Uncle Keith offered grace.

“We thank you for your scripture, and for the history you gave us . . . and I know it brings controversy, but we know it also brings PEACE.”

Wait, what? I tried to process this turn of events in my wine-soaked head. Prior holidays featured my uncles- and father-in-law thanking Jesus for food, family, and safe travel. Controversy? What controversy? This was supposed to be a time of fellowship, of clan gathering, of inclusion. Was this about me? If it wasn’t, then Uncle Keith was being awfully insensitive. Did he expect me to sit as a captive audience to this?

Fuck that noise.

I got up and used the bathroom, not for its usual function, but as a pretense to leave the room. Through two doors, I could still hear him speech make for what seemed like two or three minutes. I got up from the toilet, washed my hands, and went back to the garage. We all acted as if nothing happened and ate our dinner.

This episode does not have a happy ending. I blew off my steam on my facebook page, and after thinking it through with my friends, decided to ask Uncle Keith for an apology the next time I saw him. My sister-in-law stumbled across the conversation and was of the opinion that since I offended everyone in the room by walking out in the middle of their sacred prayer, I was not entitled to an apology. A few days later, Uncle Keith called and angrily told me that I was reading too much into things, he didn’t even know who Glenn Beck was, and if I didn’t want him to be a part of my life, that was just fine with him.

Uncle Keith does not have a facebook account. He heard about my gripe through the family rumor mill. Nobody apologized to me. Nobody told me they could see why I’d be upset. Nobody stood up for me. Nobody from that family took my side except my husband, who agreed that it sounded like that “prayer” was meant for me. He said that he didn’t like to see me picked on like that. I told him that I wasn’t going to any more gatherings on his dad’s side of the family.

It broke my heart to realize how dispensable I was to that family. At that point, I had sat through seven and a half years of family gatherings. Other than some qualms about having the bible read at my wedding, I had never made an issue of our differences in religion. When the subject came up in conversation, I simply stated what I thought and the reasons I thought that way. I never asked them to not pray, or tell them they were stupid for praying, or disrupt their prayers in any way. Never in seven and a half years.

In fact, if you had asked me before that day, I would have said that the holiday prayers were an endearing tradition, a way to communally express hope and gratitude. Even if no ghost was listening, the family was. To my way of thinking, Uncle Keith had disrespected that tradition, not me.

After December 26, 2010, though, that quaint view of the true value of prayer unravelled. As I told my indignant sister-in-law, “If you guys are going to use your rituals to pick fights with people who aren’t like you, do your rituals really deserve my respect?” And the more stories I hear from other non-believers, the more I think that this is the true intention of communal prayer. If praying in front of the atheist doesn’t make her uncomfortable enough to either convert or go away, then insist she act like she’s praying too, or pass the prayer around the table, or ask that she lead the prayer, or pray something she really really can’t keep silent about. Up the ante until you get some reaction from her, then play the religious persecution card when the shit hits the fan.

Fuck that noise.

I need some cheering up. Take it away, Tim!

Guess What I’m Sleeping Under Tonight!

I check into my hotel room the Best Western in Chicago, turn on all the lights, and settle onto the soft, ginormous bed with my netbook for a little writing. I look up and get startled by the image I see in the mirror above the dresser.

That’s right, there’s a fighter jet above my bed! Here’s a less blurry view (in which I get my ass off the ginormous bed):

I guess this is what a decade of constant war will get you: a war culture so ubiquitous that guests to Chicago sleep under pictures of weapons. I hope international travelers find lodging somewhere more classy. I hope I don’t get nightmares of that thing shitting bombs on my face while I sleep. I hope this fucking War on Terror ends someday.


I stand corrected. With a little more context, this picture above my bed is not a patriotic romanization of war, but simply a tribute to aviation. Here is another picture that was hanging in my lab-mates’ room:

Still hope this war will end someday.

Two Fables

The Farmer & the Flood

A farmer is in Iowa during a flood. The river is overflowing. Water is surrounding the farmer’s home up to his front porch. As he is standing there, a boat comes up. The man in the boat says, “Jump in, and I’ll take you to safety.”

The farmer crosses his arms and says stubbornly, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.” The boat goes away. The water rises to the second story. Another boat comes up. The man says to the farmer, who is now at the second floor window, “Hurry, jump in. I’ll save you.”

The farmer again says, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The boat goes away. Now the water is inching over the roof. As the farmer stands on the roof, a helicopter comes over, and drops a ladder. The pilot yells down to the farmer, “I’ll save you. Climb the ladder.”

The farmer yells back, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The helicopter goes away. The water continues to rise and sweeps the farmer off the roof into the swiftly moving water. Unfortunately, he drowns.

The farmer goes to heaven. God sees him and says, “What are you doing here?”

The farmer says, “I put my trust in you, and you let me down.”

God says, “What do you mean, let you down? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

 Stone Soup

Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.

“There’s not a bite to eat in the whole province,” he was told. “Better keep moving on.”

“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.

“Ahh,” the soldier said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s hard to beat.”

Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. “Capital!” cried the soldier. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king.”

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day sold the magic stone to the gullible villagers and built an oppulent city-state with the fortune, from which he dispatched a message to the village saying that the villagers should not use condoms, otherwise the magic stone would not work.

Both of these fables are about God. Given the current state of affairs of our species, it should be obvious which one speaks more to the truth.

Too Late, American Cancer Society. Your Money Is Already Tainted.

Author’s note: the FBB does not exchange pornography for bibles. This activity is known as “Smut for Smut,” and is an activity done by many college freethought clubs to bring attention to the illicit content within the bible its self (Lot and his daughters is the most infamous example). This is an example of the level of creativity and boldness such clubs would bring to the table if recruited to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

I’ll say this clearly, right up front: The American Cancer Society did not explicitly reject a massive donation offer from a non-theistic organization on the basis of it being a non-theistic organization.

Greta Christina

No, but as Greta elaborates, the ACS is being very evasive, inconsistent, and ungrateful in turning down a partnership with the Foundation Beyond Belief to raise up to half a million dollars.

Big mistake, ACS.

Not only have you made yourselves look like bigots, you’ve turned down an epic alliance. Todd Stiefel has already pointed out that we are legion, well networked, and growing. I will also point out that we are creative, highly motivated, and shameless attention whores.

Just take a look at this activity page from the Secular Student Alliance. We are willing to sell our souls to raise awareness and money. Literally. We are also willing to sport mohawks, have things thrown at us, give away pornography for bibles, give out free hugs, overdose on homeopathy, dress like spaghetti, dress like pirates, talk like pirates, walk under ladders, and even go to church! Needless to say, we go above and beyond the usual bake sale.

And we get results. Just this summer, in a single month a notorious crew of internet heathens (here, here, here and here too) raised over $30,000 for scholarships to send children to Camp Quest. This is how they did it:

Apparently you haven’t heard, ACS, but now I’m telling you. We don’t fuck around.

That’s what you left on the table, ACS: not only half a million dollars, but also amazing talent, creativity, and enthusiasm. All because you seem to think you are too good for atheist money.

It’s too late, though, ACS. Your money is already tainted. This is what an atheist raising money for the American Cancer Society looks like:

That’s me back in 2006. For a free-will donation to the American Cancer Society, people could stick a hand print on my 1990 Toyota Corolla. And if you think it is trivial to get permanent purple paint on a car in the shape of donors’ hand prints without getting paint on the donors, think again.

You just thumbed your nose at thousands of such current and potential donors and volunteers. It takes a real hero to pass over genuinely good people you don’t want to be seen with. Way to fight for the cure!

Upset? Go tell them on their facebook page. Find more ideas on how to make a stink at Greta’s blog.

The Ultraviolet Catastrophe

Part 2 in a series about quantum mechanics. Read Part 1 here.

Nearing the end of the 19th century, it was the opinion of many that the science of physics was nearing completion, that physicists only had to fill in a few details, and then they would be out of a job. However, at least one of those assumedly trivial details turned out to be rather significant. Regular every-day heated objects don’t cause sunburns. This was the first indication that classical physics did not sufficiently explain the universe.

Wait, what? Why would kitties, car engines, or hot soup cause sunburns? Because classical physics predicts that any object giving off heat should also give off  a huge amount of UV rays. Read the rest of this entry »

Go, Hippies, Go!

Where I come from, protesting the establishment means a blanket suspicion of everything man-made that the protester does not understand: not just big business or government, but also vaccines, cancer treatment, genetically modified organisms, and “chemicals”.

The statement released by the protesters occupying Wall Street addresses real, well documented grievances and injuries caused by the economic powers that be. The statement does not address vaccines, cancer treatments, GMO’s, nor conspiracies to control the masses through fluoride.

It is usually too easy to dismiss hippies and other flavors of progressive as rebels without a legitimate cause because the legitimate causes get intertwined with unsubstantiated woo. These hippies (and other assorted progressives) did not make that mistake.

Thank you, hippies. You make me proud.

Church Evicts Disabled Orphans

There is a place in Cameroon where children with physical and developmental challenges can receive care that, I imagine, is very hard to come by in that area of the world.

The center provides lodging, nutritious meals, tutoring, physical therapy, training in bamboo craftsmanship, sewing, and jewelry-making (teaching the students marketable skills), and most importantly community, never turning away a child unable to pay the modest fee. . .

Not only does this directly benefit the children, but its mere presence is a strong influence on the community as a whole, teaching others to be more tolerant of the needs of vulnerable people in a society where less than 3% of disabled children even go to school.

The center is located on the land of a local Evangelical church, and is now being asked to leave so the church can use the land and building for other things.  Of course, it is their land, and they can do what they want with it. Perhaps there really is some more pressing need than providing a home for disabled orphans.

Still, if you are like me, the idea of taking resources away from such a noble cause and using them to  instead operate a religion raises your hackles a little. There is something that you can do to turn this challenge into an opportunity. The Peace Corps has a project to help the center build on new land, doubling the number of children who can be helped by the program. $6000 needs to be raised- a pittance for securing the home of 19 children who have nowhere else to go.

The church has dropped the ball on the human prerogative to care for and protect the weakest among us. It is time for us to step up to the plate.

Via Liz Anderson, Peace Corps volunteer and coordinator of the project. Her blog is at http://esayward85.wordpress.com/

A Four-Letter Word

I am totally getting love-bombed this week. So now, I think, is a good time to post what may be the best piece I’ve ever written.

Unlike the “love” I describe receiving in this piece, the love currently running rickshaw through my life is genuine. I may act the curmudgeon (Polly Piss Pants as one of my friends puts it), but it is all for show. My friends (you know who you are), you mean the world to me.

The pastor at Laker Life, a bible study that I sat in on for a few weeks, has said more than once to me, “Sid, you are wrong. You know I love you, but you are wrong.” Another lady who attends the Laker Life meetings has also said to me in passing, “Love ya!” And in Denver, where a local atheist group commissioned a billboard that reads, “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone,” one Pastor Willard Johnson commented, “We denounce what they are doing. But we do it with love, with gentleness, with decency and with compassion.”

I suppose I should feel blessed with all this freak’n love coming my way, but I don’t. Read the rest of this entry »