12.17.2011

The Only Conversation Worth Having: A Tribute To Hitchens

The below video tribute offers a wonderful example of Hitchens's ferocity, passion, and conviction. Hitchens, in his own words, speaking of knowledge, wisdom, belief, and death, against a backdrop of majestic natural beauty.

The tribute was created in January of 2011 while Hitchens was undergoing treatment, but it couldn't be any more poignant than it is now.

The audio is taken from Hitchens's closing remarks in a debate with William Dembski at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Dallas, Texas in November of 2010.

...When Socrates was sentenced to death for his philosophical investigations and for blasphemy for challenging the gods of the city, and he accepted his death he did say, “Well, if we are lucky perhaps I will be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers and doubters, too.” In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet… that I haven’t understood enough… that I can’t know enough… that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.





12.16.2011

Tens of Thousands Abused In Dutch Catholic Institutions

Via The Guardian:
The Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands was shamed on Friday when a comprehensive investigation of sexual abuse of children by clergy over 40 years found one in five vulnerable children had been molested.

An 1,100-page report from a commission led by a former education minister and Christian Democrat leader said it could identify 800 Catholic clergy and other church employees guilty of sexually abusing children in the 40 years from 1945 and that more than 100 perpetrators were still alive.
Add this to the growing list of offenses committed, perpetuated, and covered up by the Catholic Church.

In the US alone, there have been over 10,000 allegations of sex abuse made against more than 4,000 priests between 1950 and 2002 (John Jay Report).

Ireland trails the US in the number of Catholic sex abuse allegations, and significant number of cases have been also been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

It begs the question: If a fraction of these allegations had been made against the Boy Scouts, or the YMCA, how long until the entire organization were shut down?






RIP Hitch

It is notable that Christopher Hitchens died on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Although he was not born here in America, Hitchens became a US citizen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 17, 2007.

He was in many ways the quintessential Brit -- eloquent, erudite, and, when the occasion called for it, acerbic and painfully blunt.

He was also quite American in spirit. He never held back when expressing his opinions. He made no apologies for vices. He stubbornly stuck to his guns (his name is synonymous with dissent), and he never relented in his quest for the truth -- even in death.

No matter what your opinion of Hitchens, he was quintessentially American. He was a reminder that, no matter what the outcome, we should never compromise on our convictions. We should never relent in our search for the truth, even if that truth is painful, dangerous, blasphemous, or unwelcome. He reminded us that the truth is often ugly, and it often comes at great cost. He reminded us that, even though we may not like what people say, we are lucky to live in a country in which we have the right to say it.

We can only hope that when great minds leave us behind, that they have inspired many others to carry that torch. That, I believe, is the kind of afterlife in which Christopher Hitchens believed.


22 Comments From Christopher Hitchens:





12.15.2011

R.I.P CHRIST-mas Tree

While taking in the abundance of Christmas-themed yard displays this year, the CHRIST-mas Tree popped into my mind.

For those of you unfamiliar with the CHRIST-mas Tree, news of its existence created somewhat of buzz in 2009, and it became a minor internet phenomenon. Stephen Colbert even featured the tree in a segment called Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude.

Essentially, the CHRIST-mas tree was a tree that literally puts the Christ back in Christmas -- in the form of a crucifix. It also was available in a red, white, and blue 'Christian Nation' model.

The company also sold a 'Crown of Thorns' tree-topper, as well as other decorations 'designed to remind us of the true meaning of the Christmas holiday.'

According to Boss Creations, the creators of the CHRIST-mas Tree:
In recent years, our Christmas holiday has been made to become a generic holiday for all religions with many being forced to call it a “Holiday” season instead of Christmas season. We, as Christians, must take a stand and rescue our religious holiday. We at Boss Creations believe that one way to do this is to decorate with more Christian-themed holiday decorations including The CHRIST-mas Tree.

We had figured a way to enhance the tradition of decorating a tree for Jesus at Christmas by adding a cross that acts as a reminder of Him. By changing our tree to include a cross, we are making a statement that we want to keep our Christmas holiday! Our new tree and decorations ideas will not only help to enhance our celebration of the Christmas holiday but will help to enlighten those who may decorate for Christmas but may not be “Christians.”

Praise Jesus.
Describing the CHRIST-mas Tree, Stephen Colbert said, "It’s like George Washington and Jesus teamed up and declared independence from taste...Best of all, this tree can be used year-round. Christmas, Flag Day, Fourth of July, hell, this thing would look pretty good in a gay pride parade."

I was curious to know what the CHRIST-mas Tree folks were up to this year. Although their tree made the biggest waves in 2009, there were several stories and mentions in 2010.

Yet I hadn't heard anything at all about the CHRIST-mas Tree in 2011. I was curious to find out if there were any new models, or if perhaps they had expanded  into other areas of Christmas decoration market (An inflatable Jesus would be truly amazing, wouldn't it?).

I'm sad to report, folks, that the CHRIST-mas Tree is no more. Boss Creations' website is as barren as Charlie Brown's tree, and all references to Boss Creations, and the CHRIST-mas Tree, are written in past tense:
When Boss Creations was around, it was the best source for your faith-inspired holiday decoration needs. We offered a variety of unique, innovative and high-quality Christian-themed decorations that were sure to enhance your holiday celebration!

Our past collections of inspiring CHRIST-mas trees, the Crown tree topper, nativity decorations, wreaths and other decorations were designed to remind us of the true meaning of the Christmas holiday. We still hope that you’ll continue to help put Christ back into Christmas this holiday season.


While there is nothing to indicate what happened, one can only assume that sales may have been a problem. The three people who have commented on the Web post quoted above, did so in 2011, and none of them seemed aware that the CHRIST-mas tree was no more.

Only two people have left comments on Boss Creations' Facebook page:
Is boss creations out of business please no im trying to get on site can't anyone know

I want a tree. Is there any left
In addition, the company's Twitter feed has been silent since April.

There are, however, several blog posts on their site, which stay true to their mission of fighting the War on Christmas.

The CHRIST-mas Tree itself, however, appears to have given up the ghost -- and, sadly, there is no indication of a resurrection.








In Which A Comment On An LA Times Autism Story Triggers A Shitstorm

Sometimes things happen on the internet. And sometimes the only way you can adequately explain what happened is by using the internet.

Take this bizarre series of events that sprang from an unfortunate and misguided comment left on an LA Times piece on the rise of Autism diagnoses over the past 20 years. The comment was left on the LA Times website by Sue Basko, an LA entertainment attorney.

Here you go:
Many parents today want a diagnosis of autism spectrum for their child, not only because there is a great deal of funding allocated for services for those children, as the news article explains, but also because this qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month. If a family can get a few kids diagnosed with such things, the family can live off the payments. This was caused because welfare payments are so low, welfare is so hard to get, and intact families with both parents present do not qualify for welfare.

The real story would be to check out what percentage of families with child with an autism diagnose are collecting SSI. That is where you will find the real secret behind this "epidemic." Also, school districts that will receive extra funding for each child with autism will be far more likely to make such a diagnosis.

When I was a kid, there were kids who kept track of details, counted things, paid little attention to others, and seemed socially awkward. There were called future accountants.

I realize there are actual cases of autism, which seems to be a form of retardation. A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds, without regard for the fact it stigmatizes the children for life to have such a diagnosis.

Anyone who writes a scathing reply should reveal if their family is collecting SSI or if they or their school is in any way collecting funds based on autism.

Wow, right? I mean, where do you even start?

Enter Liz Ditz, a California dyslexia consultant, autism advocate, writer, and editor. Ditz took offense to Basko's comment, and decided to address the many inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and insensitive remarks in a venue where Basko would be sure to see them. (To be clear, Ditz was hardly the only person who reached out to Basko to address the comment, and Basko claims to have received a pseudonymous voice mail message addressing her post.) Ditz left the following on Basko's public Facebook page (the page is oddly unavailable as of this writing):

Hi Sue. I read your comment yesterday at the LA times piece on autism, and was quite struck by your naiveté about autism.

To begin with, the word "retardation" isn't used any more. The Arc, the largest national advocacy organization, .... [Liz hit return here, falling victim to poor Facebook UI, left that comment, and started over]

First of all: I am not autistic, I do not have a child with autism, and I certainly have not applied for SSI for said non-existent child. Yes the school district in which I live educates children with autism, but since it's a poor and struggling district any marginal payment hardly makes up for the marginal cost of educating said children. I am however, and autism ally an advocate, and a co-founder and editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA). Our webpage is here:

http://thinkingautismguide.blogspot.com/

and our Facebook page is here:

http://www.facebook.com/thinkingpersonsguidetoautism

Second, it is too bad you got a pseudonymous message. However, as I said, your comment revealed an immense amount of ignorance about autism.

The arc (http://www.thearcorg/) now refers to "intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Autism is unrelated to retardation. Some autistics have intellectual disabilities, but many have average or above-average intellectual capacities. What we are finding is that even autistics with limited verbal language may have substantial intellectual ability. I'd be glad to share the research if you'd like.

On to SSI and your assertion that the autism diagnosis "qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month" and that families can even "live off the payments" and "A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds."

Your assertion is completely mistaken

I wonder if you had any idea, when you wrote that, how hateful -- vitriolic even-- your assertion would appear to parents of autistic children, or adults with autism?

I invite you and your readers here to come by TPGA and get to know real families dealing with autism and real adults with autism and how they live.

Ditz's comment was soon deleted from Basko's page. (See Ditz's blog post for a screenshot. She has written about this entire episode, much of which I am recounting here).

Ditz also dug up some information on SSI payments: "The princely sums autism parents can get from SSI, per child: the maximum is $674 per month." Some gravy train.

One would think that the Ditz-Basko episode might end there, as internet exchanges often fizzle after someone is adequately schooled.

Not quite.

I have been a follower of of Ditz on Twitter, and I received the following tweet from Basko yesterday:


I was unsure why Basko had reached out to me, as I had never had any interaction with Basko. I also wondered what the hell Liz Ditz did to provoke such a bizarre, accusatory message from someone I did not know. However, after taking a look at Basko's Twitter feed, I noticed that she had sent the same exact message to dozens upon dozens of Ditz's followers.

Plenty more where those came from.

Wow again, right? Who's harassing who, again? According to Ditz, her only 'interactions' with Basko were the initial post to Basko's Facebook page, Ditz's blog post, and a total of five tweets with mentions of Basko.


The last time I checked, discussing someone's very public comments on the internet publicly on the internet without invoking threats does not constitute stalking/harassment, and most certainly doesn't require the attention of the FBI. (Read Ditz's comments on the accusations here.)

I have a lot of sympathy for Ditz in this instance. I, too (along with many other fellow skeptics and rational, science-minded folks), have a hard time not speaking up when witnessing injustices, fallacious claims, propaganda, or general batshittery/douchebaggery. I just can't let it go unchecked. I'm sure Freud might have a lot to say about this compulsion, but so would Batman. Sometimes we are compelled to fight the good fight, regardless of glory or reward -- often a Sisyphean task on the internet.

A story like this would not be complete without a moral, would it? Well, you're in luck. The above episode inspired a post from writer/blogger Todd W. at Harpocrates Speaks, entitled How Not to Make a Fool of Yourself on the Internet: A PSA. The post is very much worth your time, and includes such advice as: Think Before You Type, Don't Go Orwell, Don't Deny You Said What You Said, Don't Libel Your Critics.

The great thing about such advice is that if we all followed the first rule, 'Think before you type,' there would be no need to follow the rest. And when such rules are broken, we often have no choice but to invoke Thomas Jefferson:

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."



For more discussion on this whole episode:

Left Brain Right Brain

Caffeinated Autism Mom

Colorado Moms