Monthly Archives: January 2016

I Have New York Values

TedCruzRecently Ted Cruz got a lot of attention for his disparaging reference to “New York Values.” It’s unclear what Senator Cruz meant unless one is attuned to that particular dog whistle. In fact it may mean different things to different people. But according to Cruz himself, he sees New Yorkers as liberal elitist Jews and Atheists who are pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-media, and pro-money. He sees New Yorkers as anti-gun and anti-prayer.

You know what Ted? You’re right. Many New Yorkers are wonderfully tolerant and educated, rational and socially-conscious. Most are proudly liberal and some of us are even willing to call ourselves socialists. Our religious communities get along just fine with our Nones. Perhaps you’re frustrated that you cannot divide us along these lines. We do believe it is the legal right for every woman to choose to have a safe abortion if she so decides. We do believe it is the right of every loving couple to enter into marriage if they choose. We do believe in a free and effective Fourth Estate and value culture and theatre and all forms of fine arts. We do practice free enterprise and believe in making a good living, including all those protesting in front of McDonalds for a decent minimum wage. We don’t need to strut around flaunting heat to show how macho we are. And we don’t believe in relying upon prayer when modern medicine and science offer actual measurably beneficial results.

In short, we New Yorkers do not persist in clinging to our guns and our bibles as if we are still living in the Dark Ages. We don’t wrap ourselves in religion or patriotism to conceal our racism and bigotry. And we’re up front about making our money. We don’t pose and pretend we are something we are not like you do. And unlike you, we don’t hide behind sniveling dog whistle comments. We tell you straight up Ted that you are a slimy Joe McCarthy wannabe.

And here’s the thing. It isn’t only New Yorkers that have New York Values. Across the nation people everywhere share our values because they are reasonable, tolerant, open-minded, and hold truly “Christian” values in the best humanist sense.

As a New Yorker myself, I want to now address a few comments to everyone who is not Ted Cruz. New York is not the big city you may imagine it to be. Yes it is big but it is also the biggest small town in the USA. No matter where you live in New York, you live in a distinctive neighborhood, with its own character, with its own community, and with local businesses that are part of that community. Right around my home in Manhattan are lots of local pubs patronized by locals. There are at least 5 local diners where they know me and bring me my usual Sunday morning breakfast without having to ask how I like it. Even at the Subway where I get my lunch, the workers all know me. If I forget my wallet it’s no problem, just bring it whenever. We have local politics and daycare and community theatre in any of the community churches. My wife and I take walks nightly through our parks and along our rivers. In short, it’s really the best of what people dream of when they think of small town America.

We New Yorkers are not the OTHERS that Ted Cruz would like to convince you we are in order to create an enemy to hate and fear and blame. In the final analysis we’re essentially small town folk just like you, no matter where you happen to live.

So to our compatriots everywhere, don’t let fear-mongering hate-spewers like Ted Cruz divide and conquer us. Get yourself a piece of cardboard and a marker. Write “I Have New York Values” in bold letters on the sign and display it proudly so that Ted can see all the potential votes he has kissed goodbye.

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Godless Grace

GodlessGraceIf you believe all grace comes from god, then the phrase “godless grace” probably sounds like an oxymoron to you. Or maybe even a blasphemy. You would probably maintain that grace cannot come from anywhere except from god.

But if you know that god does not exist, the word “godless” is just a superfluous qualifier. Of course all grace is godless. Just as is all love and ethics and compassion. We don’t specify “godless gumdrops” after all.

Still, when used in the context of god, grace is certainly a Christian concept defined as divine assistance or favor. The implied threat is that there would be no grace without god. And without divine grace there would be no good will, no altruism, and no self-sacrifice for others. Therefore, many believe, there simply must be a god.

In their book “Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers are Making the World Safer, Richer and Kinder,” (see here) authors David I. Orenstein Ph.D. and Linda Ford Blaikie, L.C.S.W  reclaim the concept of grace from Christians. Grace, they say, cannot be bestowed by a god that after all does not exist. But that doesn’t mean that a purely human godless equivalent of grace is not a force for good in the world. The authors show that in fact grace does exist in the world and it is found in the good works of men and women who have no religious motivations. In the face of that reality, god becomes no more than a rain-dancer claiming credit for spring showers.

In this beautifully written love letter to secular altruists and do-gooders and sleeve-roller-uppers all around the world, Orenstein and Blaikie introduce us to dozens of actual people doing actual good works without any fear or promises from religion. These are not big name celebrity philanthropists, but regular folk from all around the world who are doing modest but important humanitarian work to benefit mankind. The authors did a magnificent job finding these unheralded pearls of humanity’s best. But they would be the first to modestly point out that their job was not all that difficult. There are far, far more “graceful” secular humanist folk than religious proponents would have us believe.

Beyond just identifying these great people, Orenstein and Blaikie help you to get to know them in easy yet pointed prose that make you feel not only that you know these people after only a mere page or two, but that you WANT to know these people. The authors were insightful in learning what motivates each one, non-religious motivations as varied as the people themselves, and are adept at effortlessly sharing those insights with the reader.

About these people overall, the authors conclude:

“… they see themselves as servants to and for humanity – people who do their good work not to please any gods, but to benefit all humans and other beings on the planet.”

Godless Grace is a splendidly crafted book that blends meticulous research and insightful observations into positive and inspiring tones that never sound mushy. It’s not too hot, nor too cold. Godless Grace is just right and you will feel better about your fellow humans and about the world after reading it. Godless Grace is exactly what the atheist/humanist movement needs at this stage. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t debate, it doesn’t argue, it doesn’t play logic games. It simply shows us, in a positive and sincere way, just a bit of the good that real people do every day without god.

The Original Artists

I still remember with no special fondness the very moment I lost my innocence. I cannot actually possibly forget the singular incident that dashed my faith in my fellow human beings on the cruel rocks of betrayal. My psyche still bears of scars of that dark day when I became painfully conscious of the depth of depravity of my fellow man.

Some say it is only an urban myth, but it happened just this way…

It was the early 70’s and I was a young teen, intently watching I Dream of Jeannie on my 9-inch black and white portable television, occasionally adjusting the single antenna to minimize the ghosting and rolling of the screen, when I heard it. Like a Siren’s Call all, of my favorite pop songs, one after the other, were coming out of my television rather than from my little 9v transistor radio.

Order now, do it quick while supplies last, the announcer was urging me. Get all of your favorite hits in one fantastic album set by The Original Artists! For only $9.99! You’d pay over $50 to get all these incredible hit singles on 45’s! And they are guaranteed authentic hits by The Original Artists!

I frantically adjusted the antenna to better scrutinize the unbelievable offer on the screen. All hits are certified by The Original Artists, it affirmed proudly. It scrolled all the titles along with their artists – Kind of a Drag by The Buckinghams. Check! Incredible as it seemed to get all these amazing hits in one LP set, there it was in black and white. And did we mention that they are all by The Original Artists!?! The announcer even warned me be be careful, not to be fooled by cheap substitutes and demand only The Original Artists.

RecordPlayerNeedless to say, I gathered up much of my precious savings and rushed off to the local drug store to buy a money order for $9.99 plus Shipping and Handling, found a stamp, and sent it off. Several weeks later, there it was. My new collection of songs by The Original Artists. I tore it open like it was Christmas morning and dragged my little portable record player out from the closet, flipped open the lid, started the platter spinning, carefully put the record on, set the needle, and sat back to immerse myself in rapturous music.

Except the first song didn’t sound like I remembered it. Then the second sounded an awful lot like the first. Another sing-songy, washed-out, indistinguishably generic regurgitation of the first song. And on they went. Every song a muzak version of the original. Even on my crappy little portable record player it was obvious something was wrong.

Realization came slowly, it tap-tap-tapped at my brain patiently waiting to be let in. Eventually I entertained a small suspicion. Is this really the original artists? But the cover here says clearly that all songs are by The Original Artists…. oh wait…

Yes, shocked and horrified reader, that was the moment that changed me forever. Never again would I accept anything at face value. For evermore thereafter if it sounded too good to be true I assumed it probably was not true.

That formative event forever doomed me to take a second, third, and even a fourth look at laws and legislative actions that sound too good to be true. The Employee Free Choice Act? Hmm. The Internet Freedom Act?? Wait a second. Citizen’s United??? Now come on! When I hear these kind of names The Original Artists counsel me.

Perhaps The Original Artists did me a favor. Maybe in fact they were on a thankless humanitarian mission to teach all kids to be somewhat skeptical, to be a bit dubious about claims, to check their assumptions, confirm their facts, and question the lying truths told by legislators. Maybe it is only thanks to The Original Artists that I became an atheist and an scientist and try my best not to mislead others with spin and clever words that are technically true but intentionally false.

So thanks The Original Artists. Everything that happens to us, welcome or not, makes us who we are. And I for one would not want to be anyone else. $9.99 plus Shipping and Handling was in reality a true bargain.

 

Gun Liberty Protections

safety-firstAbortion safety advocates have a ton of great ideas about how to protect the life and well-being of expectant mothers. Even though the health risk of abortion procedures is essentially zero, these concerned citizens are so dedicated to health and safety that no legislative restriction is deemed too costly or too onerous. In states all across the country, they are proposing and enacting common sense regulations to ensure that abortion facilities are safe and that expectant mothers are afforded every possible protection.

We should be inspired by their efforts and apply the exact same kind of common sense safety regulations to gun sales to ensure that buyers and sellers alike are afforded their Constitutional right to acquire incredibly dangerous killing machines in the safest manner possible. Following are some proposed gun sales legislations, all modeled upon actual abortion legislation, and intended only to enhance the gun industry and ensure the safety of all concerned in gun sales.

The Gun Seller Freedom Act

  • 14 states require abortion providers to have an affiliation with a local hospital. Although such affiliations offers no benefit whatsoever, we should likewise require that gun shop owners be formally affiliated with a local police department just to be safe.
  • 13 states require that providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital or an agreement with another provider who has admitting privileges. Since guns are far more dangerous than abortions, we should likewise require that gun shop owners have admitting privileges at a local hospital as well.
  • 38 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician. Similarly, we should require that all gun shop staff who sell guns should have to take a 4 year training course and complete a supervised apprenticeship of at least 3 years. After they pass a multipart examination, they may apply to a government-appointed board for a sales license.
  • 18 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point in the process. We should likewise require that a second licensed salesperson assist in every gun transaction.

The Gun Store Patriotism Act

  • 22 states have onerous but according to them, essential, licensing standards for abortion clinics that are comparable or equivalent to the state’s licensing standards for ambulatory surgical centers. We should put in place equally stringent licensing standards for gun stores and require meticulous enforcement by the ATF.
  • 21 states specify the size of the procedure rooms and/or specify minimum corridor widths. We should likewise require that all gun store facilities meet minimum size standards to ensure a safe environment with sufficient evacuation capacity in the event of an event. To ensure safety, all walls and windows should be certified to withstand high-velocity sustained gunfire using the most penetrating ammunition available in the store.
  • 10 states require abortion facilities to be within some minimum distance from a hospital. We should likewise extend this protection to gun shops since they have far more potential for catastrophe.
  • 17 states extend regulations to sites where medication abortion (handing out a pill) is provided, even if surgical abortion procedures are not. We should likewise apply all the same gun shop protections to all stores that sell cap guns or BB guns.

The Gun Buyer Defense Act

  • 28 states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, up to 72 hours, between counseling and the procedure itself. 14 of these states have laws that effectively require the woman make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. We should apply these same common sense protections to gun purchasers.
  • 17 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer, the ability of a fetus to feel pain or long-term mental health consequences for the woman. None of this information is actually true, but the abortion safety advocates care so much about women that they want them to be aware of even imaginary risks. We should likewise require gun stores to provide pre-sales counseling to ensure that purchasers are made aware of the potential adverse consequences of their gun purchase decision.
  • 28 states mandate that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion and requires the provider to show and describe the image, or offer the woman the opportunity to view the image. We should likewise require that prospective gun purchasers be shown images of gunshot victims and require that salespersons describe the horrendous gunshot wounds in graphic detail.

The Firearms Integrity Act

  • 4 states require the abortion drug mifepristone to be provided in accordance with the outdated FDA protocol rather than the simpler evidence-based protocol that has been proven to be safe and effective. We should likewise require that sales of any model gun be forced to comply with all safety regulations relating to a Revolutionary War era muzzle loader.
  • 18 states require that the clinician providing a medication abortion be physically present during the procedure, thereby prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication for abortion remotely. Likewise all mail order or internet sales of guns should be prohibited.
  • Nearly all states limit the gestational age limit for the procedure. We should likewise limit the size of guns sold to the first trimester of gun and magazine size as there is some anecdotal evidence that guns with more than a 6 bullet capacity have some level of self-awareness.

We owe a great debt of thanks to all those dedicated abortion safety proponents for championing these important protections for expectant mothers.  We should join them in solidarity by proposing and passing similar common sense protections for prospective gun owners.

ADDENDUM

I’ve just become aware that at least one great legislator, Missouri State Representative Stacey Newman, has introduced HB 1397 which is exactly along these lines (see here). As of this moment a hearing on this bill is not scheduled, but keep at it Stacey!!