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Support For Obama Drops Among Atheists

Throughout his presidency Barack Obama has enjoyed a higher rate of support among atheists than among Christians. A new poll from Gallup shows that, although this higher rate of support from atheists continues, support for Obama from atheists has decreased by 20% since the first year of Obama’s presidency.

Currently, the rate of support for Obama from American atheists can only be considered high in a relative sense. The poll suggests that only 54 percent of American Atheists now supports Barack Obama. The rate of support for Barack Obama among Christians is even lower, at 44 percent for Catholics and 37 percent from non-Catholic Christians.

Intentional Misreading, Traffic Edition

No Parking on Grass Cars or Motorcycles Traffic Sign

The sign does not raise a merely hypothetical concern.

Thank goodness that expectations have been made clear. Fortunately, parking on pickup trucks seems to be okay. Parking on mushroom motorcycles would also be acceptable.

If People Are Created In The Likeness Of God, And People Like Pornography, Then…

Independent Political Report brings to our attention the interesting political agenda of a small political party calling itself the Prohibition Party. Though it’s named the Prohibition Party, and it’s anti-pornography, the party doesn’t seek to prohibit pornography.

The Prohibition Party explains. “Believing that we, as humans, are created in the image and likeness of God, we call for the taxation of all forms of internet pornography at a level which discourages it, as well as all other types of pornography, from being produced and/or sold in the United States.”

So, shouldn’t they call themselves the Discouragement Through Heavy Taxation Party?

Also when the Prohibition Party explains that it wants the government to discourage pornography, because people are created in the image and likeness of God, what does that imply about what God really thinks of pornography?

The Prohibition Party’s argument seems to lead to the following logic:

Premise A – People are like God.
Premise B – People like pornography.
Conclusion – God likes pornography.

Does the Prohibition Party propose that God be heavily taxed for the production and viewing of pornography? After all, God is supposed to have created everything, including pornography, and to see everything, including all the pornography in he world. So… God should be making some pretty hefty payments to the IRS if the Prohibition Party comes to power.

Virginia Professional Political Operative Hires Massachusetts Firm To Set Up New Hampshire PAC To Save America

Has political campaign finance just become the stuff of science fiction?

During the waning days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ensign Wesley Crusher returned to the starship Enterprise, only to be recruited into a strange group of beings who travel through space and time, re-engineering reality. I feel as if I am encountering something of that sort when I read about the exploits of a political consultant named David Mason.

Until six years ago, David Mason was the Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission. He presided over the FEC as it fell into factional bickering, so divided that the body took no action to deal with even the most flagrant violations of campaign finance laws, such as the rampant growth in tax-exempt churches campaigning for presidential candidates. Mason wasn’t a neutral political actor. He had worked as a political operative in the Reagan Administration and with Republican members of Congress, before going on to become Vice President at the right wing Heritage Foundation.

david mason new hampshire pacThese days, Mason works as a Senior Vice President for Compliance at the political consulting firm Aristotle, which specializes in what it calls “outsourcing” for PACs. Essentially, if someone wants to funnel money through a political action committee, but doesn’t want to do any of the work, Aristotle can be hired to do the work, creating yet another level of obscurity to prevent public scrutiny.

So, it’s not surprise to find out that David Mason has gotten involved in a PAC that’s trying to change the outcome of the Republican U.S. Senate primary New Hampshire, which is scheduled to take place on the 9th of September. What is surprising is the geographical chutzpah of Mason’s efforts.

The PAC, set up by David Mason, is called the New Hampshire PAC to Save America.

David Mason doesn’t live in New Hampshire, though. He lives in Lovettsville, Virginia, and he works in Washington D.C. The New Hampshire address that Mason provided as the supposed headquarters of the New Hampshire PAC to Save America is also listed as an address for:

- The New Hampshire Bar Association
- The Cleveland, Waters, and Bass law firm
- The Associated Press

I found this information through the FEC reporting site for independent expenditures, something that was set up after David Mason left the FEC. That site reveals that, yesterday, the New Hampshire PAC to Save America spent $16,500 in order to support the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republicans Jim Rubens. That money was paid to a company… not in New Hampshire… but in Massachusetts.

This isn’t the first time that the New Hampshire PAC to Save America has used its money to prop up Rubens… and to slam the Republicans who are competing against Rubens. The New Hampshire PAC to Save America is, for example the source of the money behind a site called “The Real Scott Brown Voting Record”. That site trumpets Jim Rubens as an “authentic” candidate.

How can a candidate backed by a “New Hampshire PAC” that was created by a Virginia political insider who works for a Washington D.C. political consulting firm, using media companies in Massachusetts be considered authentic? Maybe Rubens is authentic in the sort of Star-Trek-Wesley-Crusher-Skipping-Through-Time-And-Space sense of authenticity, where geography doesn’t matter.

If a Virginia-DC-Massachusetts political operation can use its money to control the U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire, though, does that mean that residents of Virginia, Washington D.C. and Massachusetts can vote in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate election this November? Would that be authentic?

jim rubens authentic conservative

Flakes of What?


I often see bumper stickers I don’t agree with, but this might be the first bumper sticker I really don’t understand — the whole purpose of bumper stickers is to be understood, after all.

What do you put in a bale that has flakes?  Not hay.  Not cotton.  Not anything else I can think of.  This bumper sticker just doesn’t match up.  It isn’t making sense.  There’s no point to it.  Unless that’s what the bumper sticker is trying to portray, in which case…

… ohhhhhhh.  Good one.

Plants Maps – Now With Maps!

A few months ago, I asked the rhetorical question, What kind of Plants Map has no map? I was referring to a web site called Plants Map, which is aspiring to serve as a kind of social media network for gardeners. It’s a great idea, but at the time, what stood out about Plants Map is that it just didn’t have any maps.

plants mapThat’s changed. The mapping function of Plants Map is now online, and it makes for a big change. With the mapping function, gardeners will be able to look for others who are close by. For gardeners, this is important, because knowing other gardeners who are close by means having people with whom to share cuttings, divisions and seeds.

Like all new social networks, Plants Map is spotty in coverage. There are many gardens in the Northeast United States right now, while other parts of the nation, and the world, are barely covered at all. Still, the potential of Plants Map is huge. It could enable gardeners to overcome their current dependence on commercial nurseries, and return to the days when plants were stored and shared socially.

Plants Map can thus become a boon to gardeners, economically and ecologically. Anyone who is interested in the preservation of heirloom varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs ought to be especially interested in Plants Map for this reason. We don’t need to keep going to the corporate-propagated, overbred hybrids that are for sale in most nurseries any more. Varieties suited for our own climate can prosper, with a resurgence of genetic diversity… and fewer of those black plastic pots that collect whenever we bring commercially-grown seedlings home.

Marriage, Religion, And An Alternative To Christian Family Values

Sometimes, when it comes to understanding data, numbers aren’t sufficient, and even written descriptions fail to effectively communicate context. Sometimes, it takes a picture to show what data means.

I think that’s the case when it comes to the information gathered during a recent survey, entitled Political Polarization in the American Public, from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Much of the survey had to do with partisan distinctions between Democrats and Republicans, but one portion examined religious identity, and its impact on family relations.

The survey asked two interesting questions in this portion: 1) How people would feel if one of their family members married an atheist, and 2) How people would feel if one of their family members married a Born-Again Christian. Survey respondents were allowed to choose between three answers: Happy, Unhappy, or Doesn’t Matter/Don’t Know.

You could simply read the quantitative results – that 64 percent of Protestants responded that they would be unhappy if someone in their family married an atheist. However, putting that number in context shows the impact of that attitude.

A percentage, like 64 percent, is a rate of incidence, pegged to the number 100. So, instead of simply reading that 64 percent of Protestant Americans would be unhappy with an atheist marrying one of their family members, put yourself in the position of the atheist who is trying to marry into a Christian Protestant family. Imagine that it’s going to be a moderately large wedding, with 100 guests from each family.

The image below shows the attitude that an atheist is likely to encounter from the Protestant family that he or she is marrying into:

protestant family values on marriage

Imagine what it’s like to go through a wedding with in-laws like this. 64 percent of them are opposed to your marriage already, not because of anything concrete you’ve done, or the way that you treat the person you’re marrying, but simply because you don’t have a belief in any deities. Only 3 people from that family of one hundred would be on your side, happy that you’re getting married to their relative. Only a little bit more than a third of the people in that room would suspend judgment about you.

If you’re marrying into an evangelical Protestant family, the wedding is likely to be even more hostile. Here’s what the Pew survey showed about the reaction of self-identified evangelist Protestant Americans to the idea of an atheist marrying into their families:

evangelist family values marriage

The good news is that those same three people would be happy for you on your wedding day. However, 77 members of your mate’s family would be unhappy about you, just because you don’t believe in gods. Only 20 of that 100-member evangelical Christian family would suspend judgment about you. The room would be packed with hostility.

Of course, there’s more to Christianity than just Protestants. There are also the Catholics, whom Protestants went to war with so that they could become Protestants.

The attitude of American Catholics toward atheists who want to marry into their families is a bit different in tone from Protestant attitudes… but only a bit, as you can see in the picture below.

catholic family values marriage

To start out with, if you’re an atheist there’s likely to be even a little bit less happiness in a Catholic family about your wedding than what you got from Protestant prospectives. Only 2 of your bride or groom’s 100 attending family members will be happy about your marriage. 55 will be feeling unhappy that your wedding is taking place. A few more members of the Catholic family will be willing to suspend judgment about you than was true of the Protestant family, but at 43, they’re still in the minority. So much for the idea that Christianity teaches its adherents to abstain from judging others – lest they be judged by their god.

What strikes me in looking at these pictures is that Christians seem to find it very difficult to be happy in the presence of someone who doesn’t agree with their religious beliefs. Could it be that Christians are just unhappy about people getting married, and a bad attitude about atheists isn’t specifically what’s driving these patterns? Could it be that Christians are generally an unhappy bunch of people?

The data from the Pew survey address these alternative explanations – and disprove them. As the image below shows, Christian Americans get very happy when they find out that a family member is marrying someone who shares their religious beliefs. It shows the survey results for how evangelical Protestant Americans say they would feel if they heard that a family member was going to marry a Born-Again Christian:

evangelical about born again family marriage values

Have you ever seen a room with so many happy people in it? 77 out of 100 members of a typical American evangelical Christian family say they would be happy to hear that one among them is marrying a Born-Again Christian. This is the kind of greeting most people would expect to receive from their new in-laws. Sure, a few of them may be grumpy cranks, but most of them welcome you in with open arms.

The stark Christian dichotomy of overwhelming happiness about marriage to other Christians, and overwhelming rejection of marriage to non-religious people, explains a great deal about the social dynamics that keep people within Christianity. If you’re a Christian, and you mostly associate with other Christians, Christianity looks like a very happy and accepting religion. After all, the picture you see is like the one above, with lots of “green” people who give support to help other Christians find happiness.

What they don’t see, because they associate mostly with other Christians, is that the supportive, happy attitude of Christianity comes with big strings attached. If a Christian looks outside the group, suddenly the happy atmosphere turns very dark. Bringing home an atheist turns the Christian from happy green to judgmental red in a heartbeat.

Atheists are used to seeing this aspect of Christianity, because they’re on the outside of the happy club. Atheists encounter judgmental, unhappy, hostile attitudes from Christians so often that it’s difficult for them to understand why anyone would associate with such a group of nasty people. They don’t see the supportive internal community of Christianity, because they’re never let inside.

On the other hand, Christians have a difficult time accepting the reality of atheists’ experiences with cruel Christians. Christians rarely see that side of their religious community because they’re on the inside, mostly associating with other Christians. They see Christians being nice to other Christians, and assume that’s how their Christian friends treat everybody. So, when they hear atheists criticizing Christians for being judgmental, they assume that the complaining atheists are just angry cranks.

The thing is, atheists mostly aren’t angry cranks. I’m not just saying that based on my own experience. I’m referring to the results of the recent Pew survey.

One might speculate, given the results we’ve seen so far, that the Christian rejection of atheists who marry into their families is just a manifestation of a general phenomenon of people rejecting potential marriage partners from outside of their families’ cultural group. That’s not what the Pew research shows, though.

The survey brings us the following picture of the way a typical family of religiously-unaffiliated Americans react to the news of a family member marrying an atheist:

religiously unaffiliated family values marriage

It’s important, in interpreting this information, to keep in mind that religiously-unaffiliated people aren’t necessarily atheists. There are atheists among their numbers, but most religiously-unaffiliated people do have a belief in some kind of god or gods. They simply aren’t members of any major religious group. For most religiously unaffiliated people, atheists are not people like themselves. So, having an atheist marry into a family of religiously unaffiliated people is usually an encounter for the family with something new and different.

That said, take a look at that room. Members of a typical religiously-unaffiliated family overwhelmingly (77) would reserve judgment about an atheist marrying into their family. 10 of them would happy, which is a much smaller number than what evangelicals give to Born-Again Christians marrying into their families, but larger than what Christian families typically give. The striking dynamic here is the simple lack of unhappiness about a prospective marriage with an atheist – just 13 members of that family of 100 would get their noses bent out of shape.

The tone of a wedding with this family wouldn’t have the intense Christian dichotomy of surging happiness or unhappiness. An atheist marrying into this family wouldn’t get the surge of support that evangelicals give to Born-Again Christians, but they also wouldn’t have to suffer the rejection that atheists typically deal with from Christian families. The reception of this family would be largely reserved, with a wait-and-see attitude. Could it be that religiously-unaffiliated Americans tend to judge people based on the experiences they actually have with those people, rather than just religious identity?

One might whether the lack of judgment by religiously-unaffiliated families is reserved only for other religious outsiders, such as atheists. Do religiously-unaffiliated families get unhappy when Christians join them through marriage? We can see from the results of the Pew survey that this mostly isn’t the case. The image below shows the reaction of a typical family of Religiously-unaffiliated Americans to news of a the marriage of a family member to a Born-Again Christian:

unaffiliated about born again christians marriage values

The reaction of religiously-unaffiliated families to Born-Again Christians seems to be about the same as their reaction to atheists. Though there are a few who react happily or unhappily to the news of a marriage to a Born-Again Christian, most simply don’t think that the religious identity of the new family member is what matters most. The myth of the War On Christianity by American non-Christians isn’t supported by these data.

One additional comparison within the Pew survey sheds some light into the likely source of Christians’ negative reactions to atheists: It has something to do with them going to church. 77 percent of survey respondents who reported attending a religious service at least once a week said they would be unhappy with an atheist marrying into their families. Among those who attend religious services more rarely, that unhappy reaction drops to just 35 percent.

Whether churches are the cause of this negative judgmental attitude among Christians, or it’s simply that negative judgmental Christians tend to like to go to church more, one thing is clear: Christian churches are not teaching their members to be accepting of other people. They’re merely teaching them to be accepting of other Christians.

Christian preachers talk a lot about “family values”, but these values of rejection aren’t what I want for my family. A positive alternative vision of family values comes from families of religiously-unaffiliated Americans, many of whom are used to being outsiders, and understand that marriage is supposed to be about letting outsiders come in.

Does Art Really Overcome Prejudice?

This morning, I came across a quote from a fellow named Andre Gide. He was a French author and writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947.

Gide was kind of a big deal, in his day, but still, I was taken aback at the categorical declaration of his words: “There is no prejudice that the work of art does not finally overcome.”

Is this true? Does art overcome all prejudice? I thought I’d check on that, by looking at the impact of art in the time Andre Gide. Here’s a taste of what I found:

nazi art

The Nazi Party employed many artists. Adolph Hitler was himself a painter.

Let’s not get carried away with the idea that art, as a category of communication, is inherently opposed to prejudice.

Art may sometimes oppose prejudice, but it can just as easily be used to support prejudice. Beauty is not always beneficial.

Mayday PAC Answers Questions with Call to Faith and Declaration of Independence

A few days ago, I sent some questions to Mayday PAC, an outfit that says it will spend large amounts of money on American elections this year in order to stop the influence of large amounts of money in American elections.  These questions are:

Question 1: What are the Guarantees that Mayday PAC will Actually Do What it Says it Will Do? The mayday.us website features a frequently asked questions page and a general, informal essay about the PAC’s plan. But there are no firm commitments. No adopted bylaws. No document explaining exactly who is making decisions and how. This is from an organization that’s asking you to surrender $500, $1000, or $2500 of your own money to be used at its discretion. Is that appropriate without verification?

Question 2: Do Big Money Donors get a Big Say in Mayday PAC Campaign Spending? One way to think of the “matching funds” idea behind Mayday PAC is that a very small number of people are funding half the Mayday PAC operation — a very small group with very unusual financial interests. Did these big money matching donors secure any agreements from Mayday PAC as a condition of their participation? Do the big money donors obtain unusual access to Mayday PAC leadership? Do they play a formal or informal role in making decisions about how Mayday PAC spends its money?

Question 3: How Will Mayday PAC Choose the 5 Recipients of its Spending? As its own FAQ concedes, there are many more candidates than just five who support campaign finance reform. How do donors know that their money won’t be used for big spending on behalf of candidates who say they like campaign finance reform … and an end to environmental regulation? Or who like campaign finance reform … and tax breaks for multinational corporations? The Mayday PAC declares that when sorting out possible candidates to support, its leaders will avoid extremists “by selecting people who otherwise seem trustworthy and reliable.” But who decides what’s “trustworthy and reliable?” There is no clearly articulated standard by which this highly subjective decision will be made — and there should be.

Last night, Rachel Perkins of the Mayday PAC wrote back to me with a response:

“Hi Jim,

“Sorry it took me a while to get to your email, but I wanted to spend a little time answering it.

“There is, frankly, nothing *guaranteeing* that MayDay PAC will spend the money as we have committed to. We said we will use the money to get people elected based on the issue of campaign finance reform. That is our intention. This is something that folks are willing to take on faith, and I am personally super grateful for that. Any guarantee we could offer beyond our own word would be worthless, in my opinion.

“The one and only issue we are interested in is campaign finance reform. It is why our ‘big money’ matchers have chosen to match the donations of our supporters. They don’t have another agenda, or they would have spent that money elsewhere. They are not going to be involved in the selection of races we get involved in, nor are they going to direct our activities.

“In the coming weeks, we will be announcing the matchers for the $5M as well as plans for spending the money in the upcoming 2014 elections–our top priority.

“It’s important to us that we be as transparent as possible. To this end, we’ll be posting this information and ongoing communication from Prof. Lessig on the new MayDay.US blog:

“If you’re on our mailing list, you will also receive this information by email.

“Thanks for being with us,


rachel perkins

I am grateful to Mayday.us for writing back promptly and sincerely.  That choice reflects a key difference from the political group its leaders were previously involved in, Americans Elect, which referred to itself as democratic but repeatedly refused to answer simple questions.

I don’t appreciate the suggestion that Americans hand over money to political operations and “take on faith” that they’ll spend the money with honor. The transparency movement is all about opening up the decision-making process so that everyday citizens can follow the activities of leaders and check leaders’ promises against hard data indications of what they do. On this point of obscurity, the Mayday PAC still bears watcing.

On the other hand, the declaration that the big money “matching” contributors to Mayday.us “are not going to be involved in the selection of races we get involved in, nor are they going to direct our activities” is a straightforward and reassuring promise that is

The next steps will be:

1) to note the identity of the $5 million “matching” big money donors and the $1 million “matchers” before them.

2) to pay attention to the candidates the Mayday PAC actually favors its spending. Will the favored candidates remain within a narrow range of general political ideology (for example, adopting pro-business “centrism”), or will they be truly ideologically diverse? Will the favored candidates show support for specific policies that would benefit the big-money contributors to the Mayday PAC, or will the supported candidates adopt some positions opposing the interests of big-money contributors?

The proof of Mayday PAC’s integrity will be at the second step, and we’ll have to wait for that. In the meantime, however, it is encouraging that Mayday PAC staff are both communicative and willing to commit the organization to a wall between money coming in and choices coming out.

Cubity Showcase Showcases Problems

Has 3-D printing gone mainstream?

Cubity 3DSystems Display at Staples Displays Broken Plastic

Not if this display at my local tech store is any indication.  You, too, can print a model as an actual 3-D plastic object that… um, is brittle and breaks.

But, but, wait!  Look at the glasses it prints out:

Cubity Model: Black Glasses that are rough and can't hold lenses.

Those glasses are just great, except for the ragged bits of plastic that might cut your face, and the lack of a place to put any lenses.

The printer costs a thousand dollars.  The plastic comes at less than a kilo for fifty dollars. The showcase product isn’t workable.

Sigh. I’ll check back in in three years.

American Teenagers Riding A Hookah To Hell!

My attention was caught this morning by a headline from USA Today that read: “Some teens gravitate toward hookah use”.

Whenever teenagers gravitate toward anything, you know it’s not good.

hookah hellA quick survey of teen gravitation leads me to the information that teenagers are gravitating toward:

- Instagram… and a life of unpaid social media pornography
- Juice and soft drinks… and the ignominy of amputations due to diabetes
- Satanism and the occult… and associated poor fashion choices
- Dark and cynical thinking… and isn’t that exactly what adults want, to keep them out of the way?
- Video arcades… and temporal distortions that threaten the integrity of the space-time continuum

The USA Today article actually reveals that most teenagers aren’t even in a distant orbit around hookahs. Citing a study in the journal Pediatrics, the writer explains that only 20 percent of surveyed teenagers had smoked a hookah at least once in the previous year.

Once a year? That isn’t what gravitating was like back when I was a teenager. Oh, no. Back then, if you were a young person, and you wanted to qualify as gravitating toward something, you had to do it every single day. When we smoked, we smoked cigarettes, and we got really addicted, not just curious.

I worry about the casual nature with which this new generation of adolescents seems to think it can just gravitate toward something one day, and then leave it the next. It suggests a lack of commitment to me.

Of course, it really isn’t the teenagers who are to blame. I blame the parents.

Can you blame today’s teens for failing to gravitate effectively, when their parents have failed to vigorously warn them about the perils of having fun? Back in the day, our parents told us that watching TV would cause us to go blind. Nowadays, parents just advise their kids that they should “balance” their “screen time” with other activities… like going to school.

I won’t be a part of this molly coddling. I propose a return to good old-fashioned parental advisories, with a real sense of urgency, fueled by impending doom. I urge American parents to join me in warning their teenagers that a puff on a hookah is a ticket to damnation!