Sunday, December 18, 2011

On Life, Death & Who I Want to Be

I am always saddened to hear that someone has died.  It doesn't matter whether it was a friend, family member, celebrity or perfect stranger.  Death is sad.  First off there is the sadness surrounding the life that could have been lived.  More so is the thought of the family and friends that are left to mourn their loss and find a way to move forward.  However, unless the individual was someone with whom I felt particularly close, the sadness I feel is reserved and not to the level of actual grieving.  If I fully grieved for every passing I would be left in a whirlwind of despair.  As an atheist I believe I only have this life to live and that constant deep depression would not be a good use of the short time I have.  Death is after all just another part of life.

I seem to be making an exception to my rule.  This week the world lost Christopher Hitchens and I am finding myself grieving.  He was not a friend.  He didn't know me and I can't even really say that I knew him.  I've read his books and articles and I've watched his interviews and debates so I know many of his views and thoroughly enjoy his writing, but I couldn't even begin to truly know him.  A lot of the time I didn't even agree with him.  I often found his views on foreign situations in particular to be repugnant.

Yet I admired him.  Probably more than anyone else.  The reason for this is his strength and courage in the face of adversity.  I'm not even talking about his fight with cancer although it would be a good example.  I'm talking about the way he lived.  Every one of his opinions was based on extensive knowledge along with many first hand experiences.  His opinions were generally unpopular and he often put himself in the minority, but he still stood strong - not necessarily unwavering, but strong nonetheless.  He was willing to put himself on center stage to fight for what he believed in and not just so he could spew his one-sided ideas to the masses.  He was at his best when he was debating those who were deemed to be the best of the best of the opposition.

I found him utterly inspiring.  While I'll never have his eloquence or his quick wit, I will still aspire to his courage and confidence when it comes to speaking out about the things that spark my passion.  I will do my best to present well thought out and researched views while still listening to those who disagree with me.  I will emulate his honesty and humour. 

My passionate views have already lost me my fair share of "friends", both personal and virtual (ie Facebook), but I will soldier on regardless.  Hitchens has demonstrated to me the importance of remaining vocal on important issues regardless of the backlash.  The backlash for Hitchens has occasionally led to vicious beatings.  I think I can handle the end of a few relationships.  Those who distance themselves from others based solely on opposing views show a certain weakness in their own character.  I would therefore counter that these people were never actually my friends at all as they weren't willing to accept and care about me as the outspoken person I am rather than the reticent person they wanted me to be.  I personally care deeply about the views of my friends even when they are polar opposite to my own. 

So this is why I find myself mourning the loss of Hitch.  I feel like the world has lost an amazing role model.  At least we can be grateful that he lives on through YouTube where he will continue to inspire future generations to think for themselves!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When did everything become a commercial???

I have no problem with product placement in movies and tv shows.  You want to drink an ice cold coke during your barbecue - go right ahead.  Pass by a MacDonald's on your drive to work - no problem.  It's subtle and people give you money for it - more power to you.

So I'm watching Being Erica a few weeks ago and in the middle of a scene it is decided that Julianne is drinking too many lattes and her assistant suggests that she should try the all new <insert water infusion product here>.  This wasn't just some quick placement.  It was a 5 minute discussion about how delicious it was and how handy they were as you could just add them to water.  Oh and can you believe it's low calorie and caffeine free?  When they finally got back to their regularly scheduled script I just shook my head and let it go.

So a week later I'm watching Being Erica again and the show starts with Erica test driving the all new <insert car brand here>.  In the next 5-10 minutes we learned all about the hands free technology, the fuel efficiency, the "I'm too lazy to learn how to park so my car will do it for me" assist, and all the other bells and whistles they could throw in there.  And did I mention that Julianne also talked again about the product from the prior episode - It's just so darn tasty! 

Fast forward to today when I'm reading the new House of Night novel and I get to a part where Zoey wants clarification on what one of her professors is telling her so she compares it to TrueBlood.  Okay that's fine, but professor doesn't know what she's talking about so she goes into more detail and then adds that the books are actually called the Sookie Stackhouse novels "by a cool human author named Charlaine Harris".  They both then agree that they should read the books.  

WTF????  Now my books are advertising other books!!  I wonder if Shakespeare could have gotten a few extra shillings if he had mentioned the all new Lye soap for removing that damn spot.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It Would Be My Privilege

I'm a regular reader of The Blag Hag and generally enjoy Jen's blog.  I do however find it hard to relate when she starts talking about feminism.  I often find myself rolling my eyes and thinking that she really needs to get a life.  Harsh I know, but my opinion nonetheless.

One such occasion related to a post by The Friendly Atheist (another favourite of mine).   Hemant had written a post discussing an interview with Kari Byron from Mythbusters.  He ended the post with "This whole post was really just an excuse to post a picture of Kari."  It was an obvious tongue in cheek comment about someone that Hemant admires for her mind and views but who also happens to be a very attractive woman.  I read the comment and laughed.

Jen's response was "only appreciating a woman for her looks and not for her intelligence is not a joke - it's a negative mindset that joking helps perpetuate."

To this my response was "Enough already!" <eyes rolling>

These posts were written several months ago and I had pretty much forgotten about them until the fairly recent "Elevatorgate" scandal.  A good summary of all the craziness that ensued can be found here.  In short, Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) was propositioned by a man she didn't know while alone in an elevator with him in the middle of the night after a conference.  All of the comments surrounding this situation really got me thinking.  The one that really tipped the scales for me was Jen's response to Richard Dawkins after he pretty much blew off Rebecca Watson's point that this incident made her feel at best uncomfortable and at worst fearful.

With that background, I'll get to my point.  Jen pointed out that Richard has the privilege in this situation of being a man and therefore couldn't possibly fully understand what it feels like as a woman to be vulnerable to a man:  "You don't live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road."  I, as a woman, completely understand how Rebecca felt in that elevator.  It's the same reason that I don't go out alone at night.  I acknowledge that most men are probably good, but what if I happen to run into one that wants to hurt me?  How can I defend myself against someone who is most likely larger and stronger than me?

This concept of privilege in turn got me thinking about feminism.  In my fairly sheltered life I haven't really had the misfortune of having to deal with much sexism.  I have been taught all my life that women are equal to men.  I found myself in a profession where men and women are fairly equally represented.  Of the four managers in my department, two are men and two are women.  The Assistant Vice President is a man, but the Vice President is a woman.  I feel no sexual discrimination whatsoever.  It never really occurred to me, in this day and age, that this was in any way out of the ordinary.

Then I thought about the life of The Blag Hag.  Jen is a student at the University of Washington working towards her PhD in Genome Sciences.  She's a scientist.  Now how many female scientists can you think of?  Not one other than Marie Curie actually comes to my mind - not a good thing.  She is in an extremely male dominated field.  I would hazard a guess that she feels sexual discrimination first hand on a regular basis.  It's no wonder she's so much more sensitive to it. 

So in the end, I realize that my privilege has blinded me to the fact that gender discrimination is alive and well.  We women need to continue fighting for equal rights and respect.  I still strongly disagree with Jen's reaction to Hemant on the Kari Byron comment - it was after all an innocent joke from a man who consistently shows respect and admiration for women.  In taking a step back though, I can now see where Jen is coming from and why she reacts the way she does to situations that I find trivial.  Perspective is a good thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On The Subject of Bullies...

I was recently talking with someone about the bullying that was happening when I was in school (elementary through high school).  I had always known that some kids, myself included, had been teased or picked on, but I was completely unaware of the violent behaviour with which some of my classmates had to live.  I wasn't totally naive - I knew that such things existed, but even now I find it very hard to accept that these situations were happening under my nose.  I can only imagine the daily hell that those kids endured and I sincerely hope that in the end they were able to get out from under it and move forward without too much lasting trauma.  No one of any age deserves this type of abuse.

I was never a popular child, but I seemed to be able to get along adequately with most people in all of my schools.  Even in high school I generally felt comfortable whether I was talking to the Athletes or the Keeners or the Druggies.  I think having a few close friends made the day to day grind easier to maneuver.

I do remember one incident in grade 8 that has stuck with me for both good and bad reasons.  I was walking across the school field on my way home after school and was in effect swarmed by a boy and his friend.  They were on their bikes and were riding circles around me while verbally taunting me.  It really scared me and I guess I kind of snapped.  As the main boy rode past me I did a kind of roundhouse kick and knocked him over and yelled at him "FUCK YOU!"  If you knew me then you would know that this was completely out of character for me.  Swear words did not come out of my mouth....ever....especially that caliber of swear word!!  I then took the opportunity of their surprise and ran home, crying the whole way.

Upon arriving my mother insisted I tell her what was wrong so I told her the whole story, including some prior incidences with the same boy.  She immediately called the school and I was mortified.  How embarrassing to have my mommy fighting my battles and everyone would find out about what had happened and what I had done.  Yes - you heard that right - I was concerned about what people would think of MY BEHAVIOUR!!!

The next day I was called down to speak with the Vice Principal.  The boy was there too.  I was terrified that I was going to be in trouble and I was embarrassed about what this boy had put me through.  She sat us both down and asked me first to tell her what had happened.  I was completely honest and told her everything - even the part about the dreaded swear word.  She looked at me for a moment and then looked at him.  I waited in fear.  She then turned back to me and said "I would have done exactly the same thing.  You can go back to class now."  

That moment changed my life.  The Vice Principal showed me that I was allowed to stand up for myself.  Not only allowed, but encouraged.  She empowered me and I have held on to that power to this day.  It fuels my fire when I see injustices in the world.  It gives me the strength and confidence to stand up and say "NO!"  It's also given me a loud mouth and opinionated personality.  Some may find my soapbox irritating or obnoxious, but to those people I proudly say "Bite me!"  :)

That boy never bothered me again, although he did start to pick on a friend and I again stood up to him with my new found confidence (albeit with far less violence) and I'm pretty sure he didn't bother her any more either.

Bullying is something that I know goes on daily in our schools and even thereafter.  I hope that people of all ages can find strength in my story or from friends or authority figures.  The bullies are generally in the minority so if we all band together to stand up to them how can they possibly win???

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Best Comments So Far About the May 21st Rapture

"I just hope no one is raptured in my drive-thru or it will throw off my speed of service times something fierce." - Thorarin (commenter on Friendly Atheist)

"I'll have the iPad with me, ready to blog about all the Republicans zooming up into the sky." - PZ Myers (aka Pharyngula)

"Be sure to wear Protection Factor 15 if you walk amongst the heathen today." - Tim Spence (commenter on

"The Sunshine Coast Atheists in Queensland has planned a 21 May party at which we will sit on a member's back deck to watch the good Christian citizens of our region ascend into heaven.
In anticipation of the fate awaiting us, we've planned a curry dinner - might as well get used to the heat. We believe a copious intake of alcohol on the Saturday night will prepare us well (and possibly enhance our flammability) for Judgment Day on Sunday." - Kristy (commenter on Pharyngula)

"Seriously, when the Bible was written and the Rapture was planned, instantaneous communication across long distances was unheard of. The Big Sky Fairy may not have taken that into account." - Menyambal, Son of Sambal (commenter on Pharyngula)

"Did they specify if the "6pm local time" takes daylight savings into account?" - Wilson (commenter on Pharyngula)

"Is it possible to postpone it a couple of days? Saturday is not a good day for me, I have other plans..." - MichaelEybye (commenter on Pharyngula)

"I just took a quick look at my VISA card bill. It's due on... May 22nd! Yay!" - SirBedevere (commenter on Pharyngula)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why I Do Actually Care About the Royal Wedding

I don't care about the Royal Wedding in the way that most care about it.  Not in the joyous, get up at 4am to watch it, thinking it is wonderful news in a world full of violence and sadness kind of way.  I care about it in the angry that tax payer money is being wasted when a large portion of their citizenry are fighting to make ends meet and many are not succeeding kind of way.  Weddings are joyous by nature, but this one is far too wasteful to bring me anything but sadness and anger.

Let's get one thing perfectly clear.  I wish William and Kate much happiness in their marriage and life together.  The same as I would wish any newly married couple or really any human being regardless of their situation. But that's just the point - These 2 individuals are no more important than you or me or anyone else on the planet.  William is no more important simply because he was born "royal". 

I don't always agree with the writings of Thomas Paine, but I think he hit the nail on the head with this one:
"To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and tho' himself might deserve some decent degree of honours of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them."

There are many estimates out there for how much money was spent on this wedding.  One estimate notes 20 million pounds.  Another source suggests that the bill is closer to 80 million pounds.  Yet another source discusses the cost of the event to the actual economy as a whole. 

I am a capitalist by nature.  I believe that if you work hard and earn money you should be able to use that money for whatever makes you happy.  Charlie Sheen is a perfect example.  He has worked hard on many television shows and movies and he has made ample money.  He has chosen to spend that money on hookers and drugs.  I'm okay with that.  It's his money and he earned it and the right to spend it as he pleases.  Bill Gates is another example.  He has more money that he knows what to do with and contributes mass amounts to charitable causes.  While I find Gates to be far more admirable than Sheen, I find neither of them to be right or wrong.  So if someone has earned millions of dollars and they want to spend it all on a lavish wedding I say go for it.

But here's the problem.  The members of the royal family do not have jobs.  They have not earned any of the mass amounts of wealth they possess.  So where do we think all the money that is paying for this wedding has come from.  The tax payers of course!  So I'm sure that since the tax payers are footing the bill, they were all invited right?  Of course not!  How silly!  What would they wear?

This brings me to why this makes me angry.  To forgive Charlie Sheen for feeding his drug and sex habit rather than feeding the poor is one thing - taking care of those less fortunate than him is not his responsibility.  To forgive the royal family for feeding their lavish lifestyle rather than taking care of their far less fortunate citizens is something completely different.  The money they are using is for the sole purpose of taking care of their people.  How would we feel if Stephen Harper or Barack Obama used tax dollars to pay for the extravagant weddings of their children - or even a modest ceremony for that matter.  There would be an uproar and possible criminal charges for misuse of public funds!!! 

An article from December 2010 stated that:
"Those dependent on emergency food boxes, which contain a three-day ration of essentials including tinned meat, fish and fruit, pasta, tea, milk and sugar, has increased from 25,000 two years ago to 60,000, of whom some 20,000 will be children. The organisation estimates that, on current trends, this would swell to 700 food banks feeding 500,000 people by 2015."
"Last week it emerged that 3.7 million children live in poverty in Britain with a record 2.1 million working families now below the breadline. The situation will get worse in coming months as food prices rise, VAT increases to 20 per cent, and job losses due to public sector cuts mount."
"Traditionally, the homeless have been the main beneficiaries of free food parcels. But organisers say they are increasingly helping families and working people. Some parents are so desperate they skip meals or contemplate crime to feed their children."

How sickening that tax dollars are going to celebrate, feed and entertain the rich while so many are suffering. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Own Little Foxhole

There's an expression that there are no atheists in foxholes.  It implies that even the most militant atheist will turn to a higher power during high levels of stress or danger.  This is something I've often wondered about on a personal level.

I didn't grow up in an outwardly religious family, but I was surrounded by the idea of God through friends, television, books, movies etc.  I learned more about the concept of a personal god in high school going so far as to accept Christ into my heart during one ill thought out moment. 
Meryn Cadell sums that moment up nicely:
"And then later in the car, my hot-from-crying face against the window, shutting out the conversation around me, I thought about what I'd said .....and I already doubted it. So intangible, so surreal.
Lettin' Christ into my heart? I didn't even know the man."

After high school I really started to examine my beliefs - not just figuring out what I believed, but looking more deeply at why I believed it.  This led to the search for evidence.  I couldn't find any evidence for the existence of Jesus at all - I'm talking primary resource material which completely excludes the bible and anything written based on the bible.  This lack of evidence pretty much made the whole prophet / lunatic / son of God controversy moot. 

While I also didn't see any evidence for a personal god, I wasn't yet ready to let go of the entire concept.   As more and more time passed and my research continued, my views began to evolve.  Gradually it went from acknowledging the existence of a higher power to doubting the existence to more recently denying the existence.  I will still never confidently proclaim that there is no god just as I will never confidently proclaim that there are no pink unicorns on Jupiter.  You can only prove the non-existence of something within very specific parameters and I don't have that ability.  I will however say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and I have yet to see any.  Until such evidence becomes available I will continue to view all religions and thoughts of gods or goddesses as primitive superstitions which have no place in today's societies (and especially in schools, governments and legislation).

This brings me to my foxhole pondering.  While I feel good about walking away from these superstitions, I have often wondered how I would react in a dangerous or traumatic situation.  Would I leap wholeheartedly back and pray for some sky fairy to save me?   I recently got my answer.

Almost a month ago I hit a patch of black ice while driving on the highway and lost control of my vehicle, swerving violently and rolling off the edge into the median.  I would imagine that others who have had similarly dangerous experiences will understand when I say it all happened so quickly, but in slow motion.  Because of the slow motion I can honestly remember everything that went through me head at the time.  First there were some expletives which were expelled from my mouth and I won't detail those here.  Then I remembered hearing or reading somewhere that many of the injuries sustained during accidents are caused by individuals bracing for impact and that you should try to relax your body against that instinct.  (I credit my lack of injuries to following this little nugget of wisdom!)  As I started to go over the edge I just accepted that I no longer had any control over the situation and had to deal with whatever outcome lay ahead.  Then I quietly waited and listened to all of the commotion around me (crunching of icy snow, the scraping of metal, the cracking of the windshield...).  When all of the motion and noise stopped I opened my eyes, started breathing again and assessed the situation (a little difficult while hanging upside down). 

I am thrilled to say that at no time during the entire ordeal did I turn to God or prayer.  This tells me that I have truly succeeded in shedding the superstitions from my past and have moved forward to claim my life and my actions as completely my own.  It's a great feeling!

On a side note, I did gain a little faith that day as well - faith in humanity.  I still find myself teary eyed thinking of all of the people who risked their own lives that day to stop on an obviously icy highway to help out a stranger in need.  A very heart-felt thank you to all of the good samaritans out there.