Wait, the Mormons Posthumously Baptize People?

Typical Mormon Baptism

Ann Romney’s father was an adamant atheist—a reality that apparently did not sit well with her predominantly Mormon family. So 14 months after he died, she took care of that by having him baptized posthumously.

I was unaware of this, but it seems this is not an uncommon practice in Mormonism.  They have gone so far as to baptize tens of thousands of Jewish holocaust victims.  You know… just in case.

Let me be clear, I don’t think this is a political issue or liability for Romney.  Nor am I trying to make the point that Mormons are strange.  Every group has its rituals, customs, and practices that will seem strange to outsiders.  I have no doubt the church and the Romneys had nothing but good intentions here.

Still, my initial reaction was sympathy for the father who’s life had somehow been betrayed in death.  Once he was no longer in a position to choose, his “faith” was chosen for him by those who felt they knew what was best for him.  I would be more than a little pissed-off if this were to happen to me, but then I’d be rather dead at that point, so I guess I wouldn’t really know.

But in thinking further, it occurs to me that we do this sort of thing all the time.  Religious funeral ceremonies for irreligious people because it’s important to the family aren’t all that uncommon.  What’s more, there are lots of babies baptized in this culture, and they aren’t in any more of a position to choose than the dead.  Although I can’t help but feel that choosing a starting point for someone (a baby) that has never made a choice, and has a lifetime to re-choose, is a much more innocent gesture than reversing the choice of someone who has made a pretty clear choice and has no opportunity to re-choose.  Which is maybe why I can’t shake the feeling of revulsion here.

Big Brother Likes to Watch

big-brother-posterSOPA and PIPA may be dead, but the battle is far from over.  The dust had barely settled from the online community’s successful revolt against Hollywood’s attempt to toss out due process in an effort to protect it’s Luddite-like business model when Rep. Lamar Smith, SOPA’s author, introduced the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.

That doesn’t even sound related does it?  Further, it’s obviously about protecting children, and who could be against that? Well, that’s kind of the point. The problem is, this bill doesn’t really introduce any additional protections for children or make any bold new strides to stamp out child porn.  At least not directly.

What the bill does require is that your ISP maintain a record of what IP addresses are assigned to you for 18 months.  It is required to keep those records sealed, unless the government, and only the government, requests them.

Some sites are reporting the bill requires ISPs to keep a record of every site you visit.  That’s not true, unless you live in Hawaii, where a separate and unrelated state bill has been proposed requiring your ISP to keep tabs on your every YouTube view and Facebook stalking venture.  The federal bill makes no such requirement.

This means the Fed won’t have the ability under this bill to demand your Internet history as part of an investigation.  But, if it is monitoring network traffic or if it seizes a web server and the logs on that server, they can trace your activity back to your house.

So in theory, FBI agents bust a child porn provider, find out that someone at the address has been a heavy user, and grab the ISP records to find out that on the day in question, that address was assigned to your house.  Then you hear a knock on the door.  Okay, if you’re into child porn, then someone should knock at your door and haul your ass away.  But what if it wasn’t you?  What if your neighbor jacked your WiFi, and he’s the real pervert?  What if you own a coffee shop and provide free WiFi to your customers?  Are you now suspect because of their actions?

And you’d have to be completely naive to think this tactic only applies to child porn.  Gee, have you been to Megaupload or Pirate Bay lately?  And there’s the SOPA/PIPA tie in.  Once this data is being collected and is at the government’s disposal, it will be used for all manner of things.  This isn’t about protecting the children. That’s just the ruse to get the law passed.

And before someone argues that if you’ve got nothing to hide you shouldn’t be worried… that’s not the point.  The Forth Amendment guarantees a right to privacy.  The Supreme Court recently ruled that your car can’t be GPS tagged without a warrant.  This means the police can’t decide to electronically track and log wherever you go in the real world so that  just in case they uncover a crime, they can go back and see who was near the scene when it was committed.  The virtual world should not be different.

As ill-conceived as they were, SOPA and PIPA were at least upfront about their intentions and motivations.  Hiding behind the specter of child porn to erode constitutional rights is despicable.  The children deserve better.

Cranston West: The school where Christianity went to die

Jessica Ahlquist
16-year old Cranston West student Jessica Ahlquist

To quote a favorite young lady of mine, “People suck.”

At Rhode Island’s Cranston High School West, student Jessica Ahlquist took issue with the banner hanging in the school labeled “School Prayer.”  She successfully sued her state-funded public school to have a it removed.  This was a classic textbook case of separation of church and state, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux even praised her for her courage in his written decision.

This was hardly judicial activism. Any high school civics student should have recognized that this was the inescapable outcome were this issue heard in any court in the land.  Some might argue the law is wrong, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it’s the law.

Cranston BannerIt might even be argued that had the school had the good sense to label the banner “School Pledge” and drop the Heavenly Father reference and the Amen that it would have been a completely legal banner.  But they didn’t, and so it isn’t.

Yet it isn’t the loss of this banner that diminishes Christianity. It is the violent threats of retaliation against Ahlquist from other students. In what appears to be a woefully misguided sense of defending their religion, classmates are not only verbally insulting the young activist, but physically threatening her with assault and rape, both in this life and the next. Just a few of the things posted to Facebook and Twitter are listed below.

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

I know kids can be stupid and cruel, but I can’t fathom that somehow this level of malevolence is being wielded in the defense of Christianity.  Even assuming that somehow this was well intentioned, in so trying to save their religion they have made it considerably less.  Ironically, atheists are often accused of unfairly conflating religion and violence.  Yet these allegedly Christian students make a compelling case all on their own.

Young Jessica Ahlquist returns to school today for the first time since the ruling on the banner.  Her morning Tweet suggests a high degree of optimism, or maybe hope. “time for school. Woot. #bestdayever,”  I hope she’s right.

WWJD, indeed.

Fracking might frack us all

ScientistIt seems increasingly likely that some amount of hydraulic fracturing to liberate shale-bound natural gas reserves will be approved in New York state.  The specific rules around that, and in what areas it will be approved, are still being determined.  The EPA, who faces the reality that fracking is an issue in many states and that the environmental imacts of the technique are not necessarily bound by state lines, is increasingly looking to New York as a model for if and how fracking should be allowed.

There seems little doubt that the energy resources recovered through fracking would go a long way toward solving our short term energy problems.  Economically, it makes good sense.  Companies believe they can make money doing it, and the country can use the energy.  If it were as simple as all that, no one would really be against it.

Yet there is a niggling little concern that fracking compromises underground aquifers, causes earthquakes, and generates copious amounts of polluted wastewater that will be released into the environment.  And therein lies the rub.

The trick here is that the science is not remotely settled.  This has not stopped groups assuring us that it is 100% safe and they would gladly have their children frolic in fracking wastewater retention ponds, as well as their counterparts assuring us that permitting any fracking would result in having hot and cold running fire taps in every kitchen.

The trouble is, it’s complicated.  There are no generalized models for how fracking fluids or methane will migrate through the Earth’s crust when things are disturbed thousands of feet below ground.  Scientists are just beginning to study this, and the answers won’t be known for some time.

Even when and if the science community reaches consensus on an answer, it’s likely to be disputed by whichever group is proved wrong.  The global warming debate has taught us that the political and popular perception is that ultimately scientific conclusions are something that can be voted on.

The only sane way to proceed is an evaluation of the risks on each side.  If we don’t frack, we may face shortages of natural gas.  This might drive up energy prices, push for investment in alternative energy sources, increase global competition and tension over foreign oil supplies, or drive us to increasingly rely on dirty domestic coal for power.

If we do frack, we may face permanent pollution of potable water supplies.  Fresh water shortages are already predicted to be the next major natural resource crisis.  There may also be unpredictable damage to wildlife ecosystems that could ultimately threaten food supplies and human health as well.

In comparing these two risks, it seems clear that not fracking exacerbates risks we are already dealing with.  Meanwhile, fracking introduces lots of unknown risks—unknown risks with long term, widespread, dire, and potentially irrecoverable consequences.  In essence, we are choosing between the known and the unknown.

The conservative position here is clearly to favor known risks.

Besides, we’ve seen this play out too many times before.  We were assured the risks of industrial pollution were localized and minimal.  Then the Cuyahoga River caught fire, Los Angeles was lost in a haze of smog, and the northeast was drenched by acid rain.  These were not minor inconveniences or local hazards.  These were widespread ecological disasters with definitive and demonstrable negative effects on human health.  And the economic costs to recover from them have been, and continue to be, enormous.

Fracking may well be safe.  I don’t know.  You don’t know.  The politicians and energy companies don’t know.  And neither do the environmentalists or the EPA.  The critical point being, are we willing to risk being wrong?  Does it make sense that a society, currently with their hair on fire over the prospect of passing debt on to their grandchildren, is willing to casually risk passing land without potable water or farmable land on to those same kids… for the sake of lower heating bills?

Frack with caution. Do it for the children.

Cee Lo’s version of Imagine angers fans and atheists, but not the Evangelicals

Cee Lo - NYE
Cee Lo Green in Times Square

On New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Cee Lo Green re-imagined John Lennon’s atheist anthem to the horror of many.  Green performed a soulful version of the Beatles’ “Imagine” with the lyrics changed from “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too” to “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.”

Twitter was immediately alight with outrage from Lennon fans as well as from the atheist community.  Fair enough.  Beatles fans are notoriously loyal and changing up lyrics is simply treasonous.  And despite Steve Martin’s musical assertion that Atheists Don’t Have No Songs, they do have a precious few… and Imagine was among them, at least pre-Cee Lo.

But the confounding thing would seem to be the deafening silence from the evangelical community.  Yes, at least a celebrity took a glancing blow at the godless.  But the claim that all religion is true should be as disconcerting to Christian fundamentalists  as claims of no god at all.

Activist Christians are pretty adamant there is but one true religion and everyone else is hell-bound.  Further, they complain loudly of being victimized, marginalized, and discriminated against at everything from not being wished “Merry Christmas” by Wal-Mart greeters to not being able to teach mythology as science in the classroom.  So, why doesn’t Cee Lo’s lyrical twist have their collective white cotton panties all in a bunch?

I guess maybe Evangelicals don’t feel threatened by pantheists?  Yet?