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“Religious Beliefs Aren’t Reasonable!” — Justice Antonin Scalia, October 7 2014

“Religious beliefs aren’t reasonable!”

So said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on October 7, 2014 — and he said it as if this was a compliment.

Really, I’m not kidding. You can listen to Justice Scalia utter these words himself, in his questioning during arguments in the Holt v. Hobbs case this month: in the audio of arguments, Scalia’s remark appears at about 2 minutes and 8 seconds into the proceedings.

This is the same Justice Antonin Scalia who just six days earlier declared how vitally important it is that the powers of government be used to promote religious belief. “The main fight,” declared Scalia in an address to Colorado Christian University, “is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion.”

Finally, the Christian fundamentalists in control of American church-state policy have tipped their hand. In their own minds, powerful men like Antonin Scalia are fighting in a battle. The goal of the battle: using government power to promote religious beliefs. What quality characterizes religious beliefs? That they “aren’t reasonable.”

Can you support a political movement that openly declares its intention to use government to promote unreasonable beliefs?

Can you help Americans understand just how dangerously unhinged, unrealistic, unreasonable the conservative religious movement in America has become? Put this bumper sticker on your car to remind your fellow citizens just how unreasonable Justice Alito and his supporters have become.

Religious Beliefs Aren't Reasonable Antonin Scalia Quotation Bumper Sticker re: Holt v. Hobbs October 7 2014

All you have to do is quote Antonin Scalia to make a case against him and his powerful allies. It’s that simple. Spread the word.

News Of Black Dogs

According to the Folklore Society, “Mark Norman is compiling a database of accounts of sightings of Black Dogs and will be very pleased if people can send contributions to m.norman@exeter.ac.uk.”

The Edge asserts that, “Guardian hounds occur widely in shamanic Otherworldly lore,” and cites an old story claiming that black dogs came to haunt the living when churches began the practice of sacrificing dogs without any white hairs and sealing them into the holy buildings’ surroundings, although he admits that there is no proof that this legend has any objective truth.

Shuckland relates this tale of a young boy in the 1990s who encountered a disappearing black dog: “While staying at his grandparents’ house in the village in 1997 or ’98, a boy aged 6 or 7 was cycling up and down a lane which ran behind this and other houses, with a field beyond it. As he began cycling back to the house, he was terrified by a large black dog which ran after him. The gate to the house, which had been open, was now shut, and the boy crashed into it, at which point the dog vanished in front of him. The witness later described his feeling of ‘pure terror’, and that the incident will haunt him forever.”

A Daily Mail article suggests that a skeleton of a seven foot-long dog could be the remains of an actual dog that inspired all the legends, though the article fails to note that the legends say the great black dog was 7 feet high at the shoulder, not 7 feet long.

But then, every dog has its day, they say. So, there is a National Black Dog Day, encouraging people to go and get a black dog from an animal shelter, because there remains a prejudice against black dogs to this day. I’ve got a black dog myself.

Sing Along With Me: the Opposition Stole My Sign!

As we get close to Election Day 2014, can I ask everyone to join in the chorus. Sing with me: “the opposition stole my sign!”

Stolen Lawn Sign of the Belgrade Maine Republican Party?  Responsibility?

When the Belgrade Maine Republican Committee noticed one of its campaign signs was missing this month, it jumped on the chance to cry “theft!”

“One of our signs was stolen yesterday. So that’s how the opposition wants to play! Folks driving north on Route 27 past Christy’s Market would have noticed this sign placed among a cluster of smaller candidate signs just beyond the intersection with Route 135. We figured that if this site was far enough away from the town office for the others then it was okay for one of ours. Last Saturday we installed one among the rest. It didn’t last a week!! I guess the opponents don’t respect the 1st Amendment!! One more reason not to vote for them.”

Do the Belgrade Democrats disrespect the First Amendment? Is there scurrilous opposition going on? A week later, the Belgrade Republicans quietly fessed up: actually, the Maine Department of Transportation (in an era of Republican administration) took the large sign down because it violated regulations regarding visible obstructions.

The haste to claim shenaniganery is not a partisan fault. We had a long, windy rainstorm this week. In the aftermath, a Democratic friend of mine was steaming mad, explaining to me in heated tones how someone had “stolen” his lawn sign favoring a local candidate… until he found the sign plastered against a nearby bush.

Scott Brown Senate Campaign Uses Big Data Tools That Spy On You

Yesterday an organization called B-PAC spent $125,000 in one pop in an effort to cripple the re-election of U.S Senator Scott Brown.

The $125,000 was spent, says the brief filing submitted to the FEC, to buy “web ads; also support Scott Brown”? “Web ads; also support Scott Brown?” What does that mean?

It’s telling that the organization that took the payment from B-PAC is referred to as “Cambridge Analytica”, rather than “Cambridge Advertising”. Online advertising these days is at least as much about data collection as it is about message projection. Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of a British company that offers “specialist data analytics” to identify “targeted audience groups.”

Now, I can’t tell you for sure what Cambridge Analytica it is up to on behalf of B-PAC, because, while private companies like Cambridge Analytica are allowed to grab untold amounts of private information about American citizen, the law does not require organizations like Cambridge Analytica and B-PAC about the details of their own efforts to manipulate U.S. elections. The placement of online advertisements by a data analytics firm, however, is highly suggestive.

Scott brown campaign spyingThe behavior of the Scott Brown For Senate campaign, which B-PAC is dedicated to support, also suggests the growth of a political culture that is highly involved in big data surveillance of voters. One of the great advantages of using anti-tracking software from Ghostery is that it shows the tools of surreptitious data collection that are secretly embedded within any given web site.

The official Scott Brown for Senate campaign web site is using, at present, 12 different detectable plugins in order to gather information, without permission, about voters who visit the site. The Casale Media plugin, for example, uses scottbrown.com to grab demographics and IP address information which, when combined, can be used to identify visitors by name, and then track their activities on other web sites. Casale Media refuses to disclose what other companies it shares this information with once it has been seized.

The company behind the Turn plugin admits that it shares data gathered at Scott Brown’s official campaign web site with third parties, though it doesn’t name names. Resonate Network, another of Scott Brown’s online spying plugins, claims the right to keep and use data on the visitors to the Brown for Senate web site for over five years.

Scott Brown is counting on voters not to notice that his campaign web site is spying on voters in this way. It’s up to us voters who have noticed, therefore, to spread the word of this untrustworthy behavior.

Another Kind Of Marriage Equality

For years, Americans have been working to establish equal marriage rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples. Another kind of marriage equality battle is being fought in Washington County, Minnesota, home of the cities of Stillwater and Woodbury. Washington County officials have prohibited atheists with humanist ordinations from performing marriage ceremonies. The county cites a state law which states that religious leaders are the only people who can perform a marriage ceremony outside of a court of law.

Atheists For Human Rights is challenging the discrimination by Washington County, and the state law that has been used to justify it, so that atheist couples who want to get married aren’t forced to run into court for a wedding.

Equality – it’s for everybody, or it isn’t equality.

So, do you think we can expect LGBT activists to support Atheists for Human Rights in this care?

Ebolaids

Jon Rosenberg comic on Ebolaids

Minus the space unitards, this is just about where we seem to be right now.

National Impeach Obama Week Staggers Drunkenly Into Second Week

Last week, I observed that the preparations for National Impeach Obama Week looked sparse and half-hearted. Now that we’re in the middle of National Impeach Obama Week, those weak preparations have extended into an anemic performance.

The images available of impeachment protests so far show a few lonely people standing out on the street corners, completely ignored by everyone around them.

national impeach Obama week

You may have noticed that I said that we are now in the middle of National Impeach Obama Week, rather than at the end. That’s because it turns out that National Impeach Obama Week stretches all the way from October 18 to November 4.

National Impeach Obama Week is lasting for two and a half weeks. Is it any wonder that most Americans don’t trust the judgment of the people calling for impeachment?

Americans Elect Veterans Form Two Groups to Interfere in Kansas Senate Race

Kenneth Vogel and Tarini Parti of Politico have come out with a scoop: the people behind the 2012 privatize corporate presidential election effort called Americans Elect are regathering their forces to sway a U.S. Senate race in Kansas. Private equity tycoons Peter Ackerman and Thomas Burbank, who used the Americans Elect brand to massively fund support for Angus King’s Senate race two years ago, are now massively funding an effort to support the Senate race of Greg Orman in Kansas. Guess Greg Orman’s professional background… that’s right: private equity management for the ultra-wealthy. As you can see here, Ackerman and Burbank have laid down a quarter of a million dollars to help their fellow private capital tycoon win election.

Their money brings more Americans Elect veterans in to do work: Douglas Schoen is working for Ackerman and Burbank now, but he was paid a great deal of money to do consulting work for Americans Elect, for Wall Street tycoon Michael Bloomberg, and for the pro-Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson’s political empire. Another favorite media consultant for private capital interests, Matt Herath, has been hired on to promote Orman’s candidacy by the group. Herath worked worked for Bloomberg and Peter G. Peterson’s fake-grassroots campaigns when he wasn’t making WalMart look good, and now Herath is heading up Lighthouse Group LLC to make Orman look good on behalf of his new tycoon clients. According to Ackerman and Burbank’s spokesperson, they’ve also brought in Americans Elect leaders Kahlil Byrd and Cara Brown McCormick. Kahlil Byrd is apparently still using the same fax machine from the old Americans Elect days, if you want to say hi.

You may remember that this year Kahlil Byrd co-founded, along with fellow Americans Elect veteran Lawrence Lessig, the big-money-campaign-finance-reform Mayday Super PAC. Guess who the Mayday Super PAC recently started spending money to support? That’s right, the private capital tycoon Greg Orman.

Connections, connections.

Corporate Responsibility Splashes All Over The Place At First Data In Omaha

“First Data and KKR work together to measure and improve the environmental performance of our business through the Green Portfolio Program established with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).”

first data Omaha nebraskaThat’s the promise that comes from First Data, an online payment company with an avowed vision to “To shape the future of global commerce by delivering the world’s most secure and innovative payment solutions.” First Data services include Payeezy and Apple Pay, the new online payment system that enables owners of iPads and iPhones to pay for things in stores just by placing their thumbs on top of a button on their devices while at the checkout register.

So it sounds as if First Data wants to be seen as environmentally as well as fiscally responsible. That’s not what I saw when I walked past First Pay’s facility in Omaha, Nebraska this afternoon. At the edge of the parking lot, within easy view of the front doors of the facility, an irrigation unit in the lawn was sending a thick stream of water ten feet into the air to fall down with a loud smack (clearly audible from the front doors) onto the pavement of the parking lot.

There wasn’t any wind blowing the water from the broken irrigation system onto the pavement. That’s just where the water landed, in the still air. All along the edge of the parking lot, other irrigation outlets, which appeared to be functioning according to design, were spraying significant amounts of water into the pavement as well.

Employees from First Data clearly knew what was going on. Anyone coming and going room the parking lot could see the irrigation system was spewing water wastefully, from the broken outlet and as a result of poor design. Nobody was lifting a finger to stop the waste.

It’s late October. There’s no need for lawn irrigation systems to be running water at all in Nebraska right now. The lawns are already green. Nighttime temperatures are low. There isn’t a drought. This is the time of year when grass will be settling down for a long winter’s nap.

What’s more, Omaha had a long, heavy rain just last night. The ground is already soaked. Any irrigation right now is pure waste.

It’s not just water that First Data in Omaha is wasting. The company is wasting money, too. That water doesn’t come for free.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Effective management should be prepared to fix a broken irrigation outlet, or at least to plug it to staunch the flow of wasted resources. Directional irrigation units are available, which can be set to distribute water intelligently, away from paved surfaces where no grass will ever grow. The irrigation systems should have been shut off weeks ago. Grass is tough, and there is no drought in Nebraska.

A corporation with genuine environmental and fiscal responsibility would not allow this waste to continue unchecked. A truly Green corporation will have procedures in place to efficiently deal with problems like this when they take place.

It isn’t just the waste of water that worries me. If this kind of waste is visible just to a casual observer walking past one of First Data’s facilities, then what’s being allowed to take place inside First Data buildings, away from public view.

Is First Data really working in earnest with the Green Portfolio Program? What I see looks more like greenwashing to me. Look for yourself:

Corporate Landscaping

Planted in straight lines with vast expanses of sterile mulch laid down to prevent unplanned growth between, these plants seem to have been intended to serve as a botanical model for corporate employees, a depressing landscape to be confronted with at 8:55 every morning, a mockery of a garden.

corporate garden

Is GT’s Kombucha Really Enlightened?

I was at a Whole Foods grocery last night, when my eye fell upon a bottle of GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha. The first thing that struck me was that the label had the word “enlightened” on the label, with a little trademark symbol after it. I thought, “Could there really be a marketplace battle between different brands of kombucha claiming to be enlightened? Would people really stop buying GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha if it didn’t have the word ‘enlightened’ on the label? Did the person who thought to register the word ‘enlightened’ not drink enough kombucha?”

enlightened kombuchs

Then, I turned the label, and I saw the following words from college student Amanda Pruitt, under “Words of Enlightenment?”: “Although you may never know the reasoning, everything happens according to plan. The Universe does not make mistakes.”

Really? So, when Jeffrey Dahmer ate people and stored their heads in the refrigerator, that was part of a reasoned plan? When the Nazis set up concentration camps, that was part of a grand plan by the universe? When people in Salem, Massachusetts killed each other as witches, that was part of the plan?

I suppose torture by the Spanish Inquisition, the decimation of Native Americans by smallpox, and guinea worms were part of the same plan, which somehow also needed to include the movie Dumb And Dumber. What could this reprehensible plan be?

Oh, wait a minute. It’s come to me. This cosmic plan is obviously intended to make it look as if Amanda Pruitt has missed an awful lot of lectures at her college because she has been so busy running out to get bottles of GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha.

Enlightened, huh?