Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chocolate is the reason for the season!

Okay, I know everyone is still looking for that final TAM report. I am working on it (amazing how, when you return from a vacation, life just...slams you back into a routine). But this, I felt, was too good to pass up.

If there's one thing I dearly, dearly love, it's getting the "Action Alert" newsletters from Donald Wildmon's American Family Association. I even love the name alone. "Action Alert"! One imagines a fundagelical prayer warrior, sitting at home minding his own business, when suddenly, a red light starts blinking (with accompanying staccato buzzing noise) on his computer! He leaps up, tearing off his shirt to reveal an AFA superhero costume underneath, and, grabbing his Bible — whoosh! — he's out the door as his wife and kids wave to him, calling out, "Come home safe, Daddy!"

In reality, the Action Alerts are not nearly so Action-Packed. It's mostly the usual round of homophobia and we're-so-persecuted stuff, along with calls to boycott this or that other business that isn't sufficiently genuflecting to their Christian superiority.

Most recently, the AFA wants to extend the shelf-life of the War on Christmas by turning it into a War on Easter. As has been reported many times, the War on Christmas was created by Christian activist groups for the purposes of fundraising. It's a cash cow, with groups like the AFA stirring up persecution fears in their flock in order to sell zillions of dollars in buttons, decals, and the like. The fact of Christian Right groups being dishonest and sleazy is not, I know, earth-shattering news. But it's sad that so many are still so easily suckered by it.

Not the least bit concerned that their motives are nakedly obvious to the rest of humanity, the AFA is sounding the "save Easter by sending us money" klaxon loud and clear. Their latest cash cow (cash calf?) is this button/magnet series to let the filthy unsaved know goddamn good and well that Easter is not about bunnies and chocolate. Nor is it, as them evil librul professors will tell you, a ritual originating in pagan cultures related to the vernal equinox in which they honored their goddess Cybele/Eostre/Astarte. Nope, it's all about their god-man coming back to life at the end of that Mel Gibson movie...and nothing else! And what better way to remind those unsaved heathen about that fact than by sending Donald Wildmon a lot of money for some of these:

There! That'll show 'em.

This is your invitation to sponsor you [sic] church's participation in Silent Witness Week, to be observed during Holy Week April 1-8. Imagine this: Thousands of Christians wearing a very attractive lapel button which reads: Easter. He Lives! ...This extremely attractive button is a silent but effective witness to Jesus and the Resurrection story. Wear it while shopping, at work, at school, etc. Silently let others know that Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, not a bunny or eggs.

Now, as Bugs Bunny often would say, "You realize of course that this means WAH!" I'll put up with a lot from fundagelicals. But when they diss the Bunny and His Magic Eggs, they've gone too fucking far!

So in the spirit of the season — especially the "making money!" part — I've decided to respond with a button/magnet of my very own! Bask!

And you can order this lovely item right here!

Imagine thousands of atheists spreading the good news of chocolate and colored eggs to all of humanity! And all via the effective "silent witnessing" tool of a simple, elegant button or magnet!

What's more, because I'm such an awesome guy, I'll do something the AFA would never consider. If you are actually inspired to plunk down perfectly good money for these things, I'll donate half my profits to my best friend's just-opened cat rescue. Granted, cats are not rabbits, but when you have 50 of them in a shelter you note that they do seem to lay a great many chocolate eggs. (rimshot) And, like rabbits, they're both small, furry, warm, cuddly, and great in a stew. (I got a million of 'em!)

There has never been a better time to be a Silent Witness for the Bunny. Join Silent Witness Week, won't you?

Poor, Tragic Yahweh

Christians often have the impression that atheists somehow hate Yahweh, the God of the Bible. We don't, and we can't, because we do not believe there are any gods to hate, even if we wanted to hate them.

Actually, in a sympathetic way, I find the character of Yahweh quite likable. Like most of the ancient gods, he's an exaggeration of humanity, with both his good side and his foibles written larger than life. He's just mucking along, trying to get his relationship with humanity to work out, but is met with failure after failure: he fails to keep Adam and Eve in the dark about good vs. evil; he's so upset by his sons interbreeding with human women to create the hybrid god-man race know as Nephilim, that he decides to eradicate everyone but Noah and his family; he frees the Israelites from Egypt, but when their scouts are intimidated by the forces of Canaan, he pouts and has them remain nomads for forty years until most of the responsible adults are presumed dead; he establishes the reign of kings, starting with Saul, but that idea turns out to be a mixed bag; etc., etc., etc.; at long last, he inseminates Mary to become his own son, and sacrifices himself to himself to take advantage of a loophole in his own law of sin and death--but even this convoluted gesture failed to resolve his problems with mankind; he promised to come again and set everything straight within the lifetime of the apostles, but that didn't happen either; two millennia later, it still hasn't happened; those to whom he speaks, once respected as prophets, are regarded as lunatics today. What a compellingly tragic figure is Yahweh.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Welcome, Pharyngulites!

Due to another link from PZ to my latest TAM 5 posting, yesterday was this blog's best day ever. Today is already about twice what we usually get in daily uniques, and it's only 9:15 in the morning! Hope all of you fellow godless heathens stopping by from Pharyngula like what you see, and see fit to do the bookmarking thing. Next TAM 5 update coming later today!

Facing 10 years as Bubba's Bitch, Hovind loses mind

This is just too funny. Hovind's latest too-good-to-pass-up offer for the government: let me go and I'll stop suing you. Oooo! Got 'em on the ropes there, Kent baby.

This editorial lays the smackdown on this cretin.

"You dishonor your fellow Americans" by dodging a fair share of taxes, [Judge Casey] Rodgers said.

She sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Even then he resisted reality.

"I sure would like to go home," he told Rodgers.

Oooh man. I almost feel sorry for the guy.

Wait! — what the hell am I saying? No I don't!

Monday, January 22, 2007

"The sanctity of life is written in the life of all men and women..."

...says a sleazy, hypocritical, lying motherfucker who is responsible for launching an illegal war under false pretenses that has killed around 55,000 men, women and children in the 3½ years since it was begun.

Go pander to that Christian Right base, asshole. [/satisfying foul mothed rant]

TAM 5: Saturday coverage, part 1 (before lunch)

As mentioned before, Saturday was a much improved day over Friday, not only because the tech troubles had mostly been solved, but in that the presenters were much more entertaining, though no less substantive than Friday's. Later on I heard a story I couldn't prove, to the effect that the possible reason for Friday's nonstop laptop horrors (it got so bad that the only way Richard Wiseman could get anyone to hear his audio was to hold his mic right up to his laptop itself, which didn't sound at all good and didn't make him a very happy man) had to do with Lori Lipman Brown bringing her own sound guy for some reason, and this person is suspected of being responsible for the damaged connector found by JREF's A/V guy at the end of the day. As I said, no hard evidence here, but it could have been a factor.

Regrettably, I missed much of the first speaker, NPR's Peter Sagal. But I caught the tail end of his talk and all of his Q&A. Like most of Saturday's speakers — up until Christopher Hitchens, anyway — Sagal set a lighthearted and humorous tone that would be followed for most of the day. One interesting thing he brought up was that, despite NPR's reputation for being this leftist bastion, NPR really does go out of its way to avoid offending listeners — with the inevitable result that they reliably end up being offensive to lots of people. Sagal mentioned he thought NPR was actually too cautious about trying not to be inflammatory.

Sagal was followed by a moment of pure hilarity in the form of The Onion editor Scott Dikkers. At first I thought, Hmm, he's not really being all that funny for a guy who edits The Onion. And then, I of course realized he's a master of the classic form of deadpan comedy, allowing screenshots of the O to speak for themselves while he delivered his own commentary — the overriding theme of which was that we should always believe everything we read in the media — in a calm, reserved tone. Dikkers' presentation peaked with his demonstration that The Onion is so true that it's actually predicted the future, showing articles (all of which appeared as Onion satires before actually occurring in real life) about Chris Farley's death (whoops!), Gillette releasing a five-bladed razor (here's the Onion bit, and here's the real thing released the following year), and Bush's 2000 win ushering in a brave and courageous end to world peace and domestic prosperity. With such remarkable proof of The Onion's precognitive talents on display, Dikkers had no hesitation in immediately demanding the JREF million dollar prize. Somehow, it wasn't quite enough proof for Randi, who nevertheless told Dikkers he'd made his day. Damn those picky skeptics!

The last speaker in the pre-lunch bald-guy parade (hey, they said it, not me) was Bad Astronomy's awesome Phil Plait, who began his talk — in obvious physical pain, I must say — conceding his crushing defeat to Pharyngula's PZ Myers in a recent best-of-the-web poll, which PZ eventually won in a "suspicious" eleventh-hour rush of votes that put him over the top. First Phil acknowledged the greatness that is PZ...

...followed by the comforting reassurance that it was just as well PZ won, because if he'd lost, the deal evidently was that PZ would agree to appear in the 2007 Skepdude Calendar. And Phil just happened to have the photo.

Well, I feel luckier already.

Phil then went on, in the spirit of the conference's media-related theme, to fisk an absurd "documentary" that appeared on (of course) Fox about five years ago that gave credence to that stellar gang of asshats, the moon landing deniers. If you ask me, these people are as big a bunch of reprobates as creationists, and Phil showed how they're no less brazen in the lies they tell in order to promulgate their crazy conspiracy theories in the media. Plait pointed out just how slickly packaged the show was, and how it sleazily manipulated its audience, not by making any outright, actionable claims, but by what it craftily left out, thus prompting viewers to think, "Well, gee whiz, maybe it was all a big fake!" It was a prime example of how the art of editing can build innuendo, and commit egregious lies of omission in order to get people to take any asinine claim seriously.

What is amazing about the fact anyone takes moon-landing-hoax claims seriously is that the "evidence" these people point to is so pitiful that anyone with the slightest bit of understanding of the issues involved can refute them with no effort at all. There's just no critical thinking going on at all among these conspiracy kooks. Several moon landing deniers, for instance, claim to be photography experts. And yet they appear unacquainted with such basic photographic issues as lens flare, perspective and horizon lines, and even ASA speeds and exposure times. Why don't you see stars in any of the moon-surface photos? The deniers say it's because it was all done on a sound stage in Area 51 (no shit, a guy in the doc actually said "Area 51"). People with brains who know how cameras work will tell you it's because the astronauts were using slow film and adjusting their f-stops to show a clear lunar surface, not the sky. To expose the film for long enough to pick up a sky full of stars would have resulted in such a blazing white, glared-out lunar surface that the whole shot would have been a loss. As someone who works in the film business myself, allow me to give my expert assessment of Phil's explanation: Duh! Now someone tell Fox and these shitheads who claim to be photographers.

In this photo, Phil uses his belt to show how a flag can appear to be "waving" in an airless environment.

In all, Phil's talk was a spectacular and, though funny, deeply sobering demonstration of how easily the media can influence public opinion through deception. It's one more reason the pro-science camp needs to learn to be more media savvy, in order to find ways to communicate facts to a confused public and show how the truth about science and the universe is far more wondrous and compelling than the bleak fear-mongering and go-nowhere ignorance they're currently being given. Phil's final shot was this wonderful autograph from Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean.

Says it all, I think.

Back later with the second half of Saturday.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

TAM 5: Saturday a much better day!

The many technical glitches that marred even the best speakers' presentations yesterday seemed to have been mostly smoothed over and dealt with. Today was, overall, a much more satisfying day. Even the lunch was better: hot food instead of cold cut sandwiches. Consistently funny, engaging, and sometimes contentious, each speaker had a lot to offer.

But I'm going to wait until I get home Sunday night to blog the day, mainly because I'm wiped out. I just feel like coming down and relaxing, and not thinking about recapping and analyzing all the speakers just right yet. So look for coverage and photos of Saturday shortly. For now, I can say that if you ever find it in your budget to go to TAM, go. It's been a terrific experience and a great little vacation, and TAM 6 is scheduled for summer 2008, not January, giving you 18 months to plan.

Yawn. Me for bed.

TAM 5: Friday afternoon speakers

The general opinion so far of my friends Thad and Stacie Engeling (the latter of whom is Ms. November in the 2007 Skepchick Calendar, by the way) is that TAM 5 has so far not been as good as TAM 4. But a lot of this is probably due to the fact that Friday afternoon's talks were frought with stupid technical glitches. It can't be terribly difficult to output audio from a laptop to a public sound system, but it happened with almost every presentation. In addition, presenters with video on DVD-R's often encountered the aggravating problem of their discs not playing properly. In all, the afternoon was a little bit of a mess, but there were still some fine presentations going on.

Nick Gillespie and Ron Bailey from the libertarian Reason magazine were scheduled to follow Eugenie Scott, but as everything was running late they've been bumped, so we'll see if they speak today.

The first post-lunch speaker was a fellow from MIT named Neil Gershenfeld, who talked about advances in nanotech and how they will make manufacturing a much more democratic process. His team has set up "fab labs" all around the world, with the result that even little kids are making some cool gadgets. He's also pointed out that since he introduced a class at MIT all about this, which he initially expected to appeal only to a handful of engineering dweebs, he has in fact been flooded with hundreds of students who just wanted to make stuff. What he's discovered is that the killer app for this kind of tech will be personal tech, and not necessarily mass-produced things for the marketplace. I wasn't expecting to get into this talk that much, fearing it would slide headlong into tech-talk-land and lose me utterly, but Gershenfeld, in full hip-prof mode, made it utterly compelling. It was great to see how young kids living in the developing world, when exposed to this kind of knowledge, really had a hunger for it and absorbed what they were learning like little sponges. I can foresee a time when online communities of fab junkies are trading their manufacturing templates via p2p, and spitting out all kinds of nifty things on home replicators. Time will tell.

What followed was an interview with Randi by his friend Jamy Ian Swiss. We were shown quite a lot of amusing video from a Korean TV show that invited Randi over to debunk a whole host of their local paranormalists. Randi coached the show's producer on what to look for when he and his crew went out to various psychic presentations, and, in contrast to the way an American TV show would insist on presenting woo with 100% credulity, this producer turned out to be a debunking champ, laying awesome traps for spoon-benders and psychic "healers" that Randi admitted he himself could not have improved upon. A simple hidden camera showed one spoon bender just bending the spoon the normal way when he thought no one was looking, and a Malaysian healer whose schtick is that electricity flows through his body (he did a trick that Randi had no trouble duplicating in the Korean studio) was shown to have tricked out his sandals with a battery pack. The dude also nailed Uri Geller, pissing off the Israeli fruad so much he threw them out of his house. Hilarious.

It was terrific watching these clips, but the whole presentation ended up getting a little overlong and repetitive because the DVD player they were using had the hardest time cueing up to the right spots in the DVD-R.

Technical glitches continued with Lori Lipman Brown, lobbyist for the new Secular Coalition of America, the first lobbying group for atheists. Brown was a decent speaker once she stopped just reading from her prepared remarks, and she presents a nice face for atheism in the public square. Still, she was fairly unprepared for the abject disrespect from Fox News interviewers, getting that deer-in-the-headlights look when confronted by O'Reilly; she showed three clips from Fox News interviews, two from the Factor. Still, she mentioned that she hasn't received any disrespect on Capitol Hill simply because she's representing atheists, and I hope once she develops a slightly thicker skin and cangive as well as she gets in front of TV cameras, she might be someone to exert some real influence. She ain't there yet, though. Overall, her presentation was brief, a nice relief from the extreme length of the Randi interview and its glitchy videos.

A Q&A with the ever-popular Penn & Teller followed, who were both funny and warm as they fielded questions from the crowd, many of whom had clearly worked up the funniest questions they could think of well in advance. Some of the better questions involved the benefits/liabilities of working with Showtime versus using DIY broadcasting technology online like YouTube. They also related the hilarious story of the video game Desert Bus, in which nothing happens except that you drive a bus from Phoenix to Vegas for eight hours.

But as funny as Penn & Teller are, the real comic genius of the day was the energetic Richard Wiseman, who talked at a machine-gun pace, peppering his speech with off-the-cuff jokes that had everyone belly-laughing. Wiseman has a reputation doing lots of debunking over in his native England, most prominently the claims of the kookoo Rupert Sheldrake, who thinks dogs and parrots have ESP. Sheldrake believed he had proven a little terrier was psychic because she always ran to the window at the precise moment her owner was coming home, even if the time was entirely chosen randomly. Wiseman set up his own cameras on Sheldrake's invitation and learned that the dog was in fact going to the window all the time. (Again, Wiseman had several minutes worth of his own laptop issues before we were able to see the videos.)

Wiseman went on to talk about how he's seeking to use the media, not just for debunking efforts, but in a way that presents science entertainingly. He gave us the whole story of a stunt in which an investor, a "financial astrologer," and a five-year-old girl were invited to choose the best stocks, and after six months, the little girl was the only one who hadn't lost money. Then there was the long saga of the humor research program to discover the funniest joke in the world (it's not quite) by allowing thousands of people to submit jokes to a website, then screening them through public votes down to the most popular one.

Wiseman, the final speaker for the day, is a hilarious guy, and he's the kind of bloke I'd love to see doing more work for skepticism in the public arena. After the room was shutting down I managed to locate him and we had a good talk walking back to the elevators. I was particularly interested in his talk, as I told him, because a few years back I got into a brief Wikipedia edit war with a Sheldrake fan and woo believer who was editing Wikipedia's ESP entry, both to slant the article to a pro-paranormal bias, and also to add about a dozen links driving traffic to his blog. I hadn't heard about the dog experiment before dealing with this clown (who believed Sheldrake's results utterly), but it was evident right away to me that the way Sheldrake set up his own test proved the guy has no clue how to run a controlled experiment to save his life. Sheldrake's response to Wiseman's findings has, of course, been to lie and say Wiseman got the same results he did. Of course, Wiseman showed the dog did indeed go to the window at the precise moment her owner was coming home. But she also went to the window nearly every five minutes before and after that point as well. I'm a dog owner and know full well these are creatures of habit; my dogs know when it's walk time, and if I'm slacking off online they'll come to get me and bark indignantly that they're ready to go. Are they psychic for knowing this? No, they just know how to learn routines. It's what dogs do. Sheldrake's work is just a prime example of confirmation bias in action.

Anyway, that was the end of Friday. I've decided to skip the continental breakfast this morning. Today has another solid roster of speakers — Phil Plait, Christopher Hitchens, and...wait for it...Trey Parker and Matt Stone! So I hope fewer techie troubles plague the day and everything goes a lot more smoothly.

Hovind gets 10 years

This just in...

Friday, January 19, 2007

TAM 5: Friday morning speakers Shermer & Scott

Well, remember what I said last night about being wiped out and going to bed? Wrong! I realized that if I go to Vegas for an awesome conference and crash early, then damn it all, I haven't been to Vegas for an awesome conference. And so I mustered up my second wind, went downstairs, and saw an impressive performance by the mentalist Banachek. Maybe I'll discuss that in more detail later, but for now...

This morning's speaker session began with Hal Bidlack introducing Randi once again. This time Randi said some things that will be music to any skeptic's ears: the JREF is going on the offensive against paranormalism and bullshit. Randi is revising the terms of the famous Million Dollar Challenge in the interests of rededicating himself to his debunking efforts following his physical recovery.

The problem over the years has been too many Mickey Mouse losers applying for the Challenge, few of whom can even state their claims coherently, and none of whom really has any kind of reputation in the media or elsewhere. Now, Randi's detractors in the woo brigade often dismiss the Challenge as a publicity stunt, and in truth, publicity is part of the point. The JREF wants to educate and inform the public and promote critical thinking, and reaching the public through the media is the best way to do it. But why should the media care about some kooky dowser from Bumfuck, Iowa?

So the new terms of the Million Dollar Challenge, going into effect on April 1 (heh), will be that applicants must have some kind of media presence, like Sylvia and John Edwards, and that there must be someone in a position of authority and influence — academically or otherwise — who feels that the claimant is worth taking seriously. This will weed out the nonsense, and pique the kinds of media interest that will help bring the message of thinking critically about extraordinary claims to a public who are given far too many reasons to be credulous. I like it. I especially liked the idea that the JREF is considering a major New York Times ad on April 1 announcing the new terms of the Challenge and expressly inviting Sylvia, Edwards, Uri Geller, and James von Praagh to partake. Bring the fight right out in the open!

Finally, Randi announced intentions to forcefully pursue (sorry, split infinitive) legal actions for fraud and other crimes perpetrated by woos shown to be false and who yet continue to take money from the gullible. All good plans!

Skeptic magazine's Michael Shermer then came up to give an interesting if not earth-shattering talk on the topic of his next book, the evolution of economic systems. He described both evolution and economics as complex adaptive systems; in small bands like hunter-gatherers, trading was adequate as there are no specific individuals accumulating mass wealth and hogging resources. In bigger civilizations, one gets more disparity, and you end up with the super-rich like Bill Gates, who cause as much discomfort as the super-poor panhandling on the streets (though in Gates' case, I think envy is playing a role). So more complex economic systems evolve to meet the needs of a larger populace. And this can be tied into our biological evolutionary heritage, which likes the idea of "reciprocal altruism", i.e., fairness. It isn't really my field, so the topic didn't grab me by the nads. But Shermer seems to have thought it out skillfully, so I'm thinking the book with be worth checking out.

Next, the NCSE's awesome Eugenie Scott took the podium to give the first brilliant talk of the show, tracing the evolution of the creationist movement from "creation science" to ID. In addition to covering the basics, Scott made a number of astute points, some of which I hadn't considered. One of these I had considered is that the IDers have been more skilled at using the media than pro-evolution scientists. Ironically, they have even been better about getting out the message that they are the ones interested in skepticism and critical thinking, with their "teach the controversy" mantra and their knack for portraying science as a dogmatic practice.

Scott pointed out how the media's focus on the generally laudable practice of fairness taints the real issues. Proper balance is achieved by presenting both sides of an issue accurately. That is not the same thing as giving both sides equal credibility. IDers have done a remarkable job of working the media and covering up the fact that they don't really do any science.

Scott suggested that scientists need to counter ID creationism in a positive way that promotes the practice of science and critical thinking and how to apply it well. She pointed to the Kitzmiller trial as a landmark effort in this, in that, for the first time, people who haven't been at the forefront of fighting ID nonsense for years — like Judge Jones and the army of reporters covering the trial — finally really got it. Michael Behe made a fool of himself on the stand in Dover, and what's important is that the press understood that, and coverage of Behe was commensurately humiliating. This isn't and has never been about "dogmatic Darwinists" "censoring" ID's "controversial" views in order to "protect evolutionary dogma," to regurgitate a lot of ID buzzwords. It's just about making it perfectly understood that ID just plain ain't science. And in science class, it's about teaching science. Evolution, like heliocentrism or any other settled scientific issue, is not a matter of opinion. Being "fair and balanced" is all well and good when you're letting people air opinions. But science isn't about opinions or belief. It's about empirically demonstrable facts.

Scott accompanied her talk with a host of fantastic PowerPoint slides showing the depth of the swill one has to wade through when combating ID/creationist nonsense. It's both funny and sad all at once.

Well, I'm taking time out of the lunch break to bring you this. So I'm going back downstairs. (For ten bucks a day, the wifi here sucks ass. What's the deal with getting no signal at all in the convention center? I mean, duh! Hello?) I may not post the next update for a bit, as I need to renew the service for another day. So I may wait till late tonight in order to stretch my money out better. Of course, anyone who'd like to help defray these little costs can Paypal me at mw_director at yahoo dot com, but, like Banachek was saying all last night in his act, "Now, I'm manipulating you! Don't let me do that!" Ha!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

TAM 5: Shots from the reception

James Randi spoke briefly, thanked everyone for coming and remarked drolly on how amazing it was that he could pull together such a community just by being a guy with a reputation for saying things like "I doubt that."

Randi gave us some good news about bad news for Uri Geller, who's the target of condemnation by the Israeli parliament after a video hit YouTube of Geller thoroughly faking a stunt with a compass. He also mentioned he was going on The O'Reilly Factor to confront the notorious Sylvia Browne yet again; much as O'Reilly is an asshole, Randi says the guy hates Sylvia and is on the side of Good (for once) in this battle. We'l see. I'm — ahem — skeptical.

After he spoke, he was surrounded by a gaggle of fans, and I eventually managed to slip in there, introduce myself, and do the usual fanboy gush thing about how much I admired all his work over the years, and all that. He was a really cordial, approachable man, and that's cool. I know he gets to hear this kind of fawning from his fans almost as much as he hears the slanders of the woo brigade, and he's used to it. But at least I've had the experience of meeting him and shaking his hand. He appears hale and fully recovered from his recent heart troubles, so I predict more years of pissing off the paranormal charlatans are in the offing.

A little more mingling and I crossed paths with Reginald Finley, aka The Infidel Guy, who surprised me by recognizing me. I had no idea he had any idea who I was. I knew he was aware of the very active Austin crowd, but I guess he's seen some episodes of the old AE show when I was hosting. We talked quite a bit, and he mentioned some of his expanding podcasting efforts with The Debate Hour, a less aggressive show designed to draw in a wider audience of believers and introduce them to critical thinking. Really nice guy, Reggie is.

I'm wiped out. My body clock tells me it's just after 10 PM, while the clock radio by my bed here says it's only just after eight. Stupid time zones. Some of the guys are planning a pub crawl starting at eleven, which sounds like a great way to hang with some new folks. But having been up now almost an entire day, I don't think I'm quite up to it. So I'm gonna lame out and crawl into bed.

The speakers begin tomorrow, and I'll be updating regularly. See you then.

TAM 5 liveblogging: Well, here I am!

Been here a few hours, in fact, but much of the afternoon was spent getting my bearings (including figuring out the wifi situation here — it isn't free, and in fact the $10/day service is the least rapacious) and registering. But a quick recap of the afternoon so far.

Landing in Vegas to balmy 52 degree weather was like entering paradise after a solid weekend of ice and sleet in Austin. Checked into the Riviera, which I was pleased to find did not live down to the brutal reviews I was reading on various travel sites last night. My room was clean and nice, with a full battery of amenities like any decent hotel, and with no smoky smell, trash, or bedbugs to be found. Now, granted, the Riv isn't exactly in the "nice" part of Vegas, the new spiffy trendy part where Britney likes to skank around. This is old-school, Rat Pack Vegas, and the Riv caters solidly to the penny-slot crowd. Damn near everyone in the casinos downstairs is retirement age, including the one security guard I saw, walking along with a visible effort. I imagine if Danny Ocean were to pull a heist here and take off at a practiced run, the poor fellow wouldn't last thirty yards in a foot chase.

Anyway, got checked in, unpacked, and wandered the labyrinthine corridors looking for the TAM 5 registration booth. When I passed James Randi walking the opposite direction, I figured I was getting warm.

He's a small guy. But a giant in his realm, of course.

So now I am, right this second, blogging to you from the Top of the Riv Ballroom on the 24th floor of Whatever-the-Hell-It's-Called Tower, at the opening reception, typing away while enjoying horse doovers and a fizzy beer. I've been taking some pictures, too, but I went and left the goddamn USB cable to my camera back in the room. So I'll update later and post those.

I am now going to quit geeking, get another beer, and mingle. Randi is getting ready to speak.

Until later...

TAM 5: On my way

I'm tired and groggy, but I'm on my way out the door to Vegas. Only trouble is, I made the mistake of getting online last night and looking up reviews of the Riviera. Apparently it's a seriously run-down shithole staffed by Neanderthals. Great. Well, now that I have low expectations maybe things won't be so bad. Yeah, optimism! That's the ticket.

More later...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

[Cartman voice] Kickass! [/Cartman voice]

Bright and early Thursday morning I am flying out of the ice-caked ruins of Austin for the not-all-that-less-cold-but-at-least-not-icy glitter of Lost Wages, Nevada. The occasion? James Randi's The Amazing Meeting 5, damn it! The great skeptic's conference hits its fifth year, with appearances by such luminaries as Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller, Richard Wiseman, Phil Plait, Eugenie Scott, and — wait for it — Trey Parker and Matt Stone!

Been waiting for this for a long time, and when it turned out to be in the budget I leapt on it. Now, I am hoping — I say hoping — to be able to liveblog all this for you. But that will be contingent upon finding someone in Austin within the next 24 hours with a laptop they're willing to loan me. (Hint! Hint! Hint! Hint!) My plan to have a shiny new Macbook by now didn't run on schedule; ironically, part of that budget went toward the trip. But if I don't get to liveblog it, be prepared for a bombardment of posts upon my return Monday, accompanied by an outright visual assault of photos.

Now, just because I'm going to Vegas, all you jealous Austinites needn't think I'm escaping to some tropical clime. The forecast out there is for highs in the low 50's and lows around freezing at night. But at least I will be escaping this:

Them bastards are huge! Those of you reading this in northern and midwestern states probably think us Texans are a bunch of big babies. But really, this kind of display is rare down here. Sure, we get ice around January fairly regularly — but this is the severest ice storm we've had in some time. And as for the snow that fell this afternoon, well, shit. I've lived in Austin 20 years and I think it's snowed twice in that time.

Still, it's interesting to see icicles looking exactly like they do in comic strips, all pointy and dangerously vertical, as if they're just waiting to snap off as you walk innocently past and impale your brain. And then there's always one like that big sucker in the middle, looking like some alien triffid that's about to hatch ghastly spores to turn us all into zombies.

Okay, so I have a rich inner life.

Update: Wed. 1/17, 6:12 PM: Laptop situation solved, so liveblogging will occur! Come back here all through the weekend for a major flurry of new posts from the Meeting! w00t!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

From the Dept. of Making Your Life Easy

Why not watch the TV show right here? Look for future episodes as they become available.

Atheist Experience #482, 1/7/07: Prediction.

Russell explains how "prophets" and "psychics" fool people.

Monday, January 15, 2007

DaveScot really is as foolish and dishonest as people say he is!

I've noticed Bill Dembski's sycophant-in-chief DaveScot has dropped by the AE blog to troll in our comments, as he has done in several others run by pro-evolution scientists. He has a reputation for wild distortions and pure risibility in his arguments (Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars is a fine compendium of DaveScottish follies, for those of you who can't bear to subject yourself to Uncommon Descent; just search for this name there and see what comes up), and I see he's fully on form here.

An example of how DaveScot behaves/argues: On Larry Moran's Sandwalk a few days ago, a commenter named Shalini opined that the new banner at Uncommon Descent was "ugly." DaveScot retorted with this charming remark:

What kind of name is Shalini? I keep looking for a red dot on your forehead.

That's a pretty clear bit of racist nastiness, if you ask me, and I called him on it. So how does DaveScot react to that? As follows:

A little checking up on Martin found him in my hometown and then the picture of the cable TV crew with all white people in it made his comment seem a tad hypocritical. I couldn't resist making the dig.

Making a public fool of himself is indeed something DaveScot rarely resists. Really, it takes a specially cultivated kind of stupid to think this way! I begin to understand just why Dave is so widely and enthusiastically ridiculed by everyone who isn't a pro-Dembski Uncommon Descent regular. Remember, people, if you're white, and you are not in the company of at least one racial minority at all times and in all circumstances, you are just as racist as someone who openly mocks the appearance of a non-white person.

DaveScot's further comments are a fusillade of disingenuousness and outright dishonesty. He claims to be agnostic, but then how to explain this post in which he exhorts his readers to pray for the people partaking in the Blasphemy Challenge, who are "giving up their immortal souls on a dare... I’m not rationally convinced we have immortal souls to give up but certainly the possibility exists... Please join me in a simple prayer for the young victims of this stunt."

Um, pray to whom about what, exactly, Dave, if you're an agnostic who isn't "rationally" convinced there are even such things as souls? Either you think these people are placing themselves at risk of divine wrath or you don't. As your post indicates you do, then your claims of nonbelief are as truth-challenged as most everything else you've said.

Dave then makes the usual persecution claims about ID.

If ID wasn't made into a strawman by anti-religionists more people might realize it fits fine with an atheist view like mine and even yours... Acknowledging the possibility that life and the universe doesn't just have the appearance of design but is actually designed is not anti-atheist.

The whine that ID is constantly misrepresented by the Evil Atheist Conspiracy has been dead and buried for so long it's nearly a fossil itself. Exactly how is ID made a strawman? As DaveScot goes on to say, ID has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, nosiree bob, no way, not at all. This is all just lies, lies, lies. ID doesn't specify a creator, you see. It merely points out that the universe and life on earth appear to be designed, and leaves the question of who/what the designing agent is open.

Never mind, of course, the very words of DaveScot's good friend Dembski himself (via Wikiquote):

"If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient."

"Christ is indispensable to any scientific theory, even if its practitioners do not have a clue about him." —both taken from Dembski's 1999 book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology

Oh yes, let's also overlook the fact that the Kitzmiller trial demonstrated conclusively that ID is nothing more than warmed-over traditional Christian creationism, by contrasting earlier editions of the creationist "textbook" Of Pandas and People with later editions, and showing that the word "creationism" and its variants had simply been replaced with "intelligent design". (From The Panda's Thumb)

Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent Creator with their distinctive features already intact–fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. (Pandas 1987, creationist version, FTE 4996-4997, pp. 2-14, 2-15)

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. (Pandas 1993, 2nd edition, published, pp. 99-100)

Finally, let's get back to that old fave rave, The Wedge Strategy, a document whose authenticity the Discovery Institute has fully fessed up to, and which lays the religious agenda of the intelligent design movement as bare as Jenna Jameson's ass.

But still you have guys like DaveScot, out trying to sell the idea that ID has no relationship to religion at all, either unaware or indifferent to the fact that the jig has long been up, and no one's buying what he's selling. So we're meant to swallow the idea that the intelligent designer of the universe isn't really God, just — to paraphrase the hilarious snark from Jon Stewart — some being with the skillset to design and create a universe. And anyone who says different is just an anti-religionist making up strawmen. Got it.

But you might want to fill Bill in before he writes another book. Talk it over with him next time you get together at his Nebraska beach house.

Atheist Experience video now on web

I've been informed that recent episodes of the TV show are now online via Google Video, with more on the way. You can search for them there, or use the links here. (Episodes 475, 479, and 482 now available; scroll down to the table and select "video".) Hat tip to Don Baker for this.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

You think fundamentalism is bad in the US, try Nigeria!

Nigeria seems to be the country taking pole position for Most Egregious Offenses in the Name of Religion these days.

Exhibit A: "Reverend King," self-styled leader of the Christian Praying Asembly, is one of these scumbags who founds a cult just so he can get loads of trim. King, real name Emeka Ezeugo, subjected female members of his "congregation" to wild orgies, and even had some of them doing the personal maid thing in the nude. Then, in a true irony-meter-exploding moment, he rounded up a bunch of them, denounced them for fornication, and set them on fire, killing one. He has now been sentenced to hang, for which I risk losing my membership in the Cool Liberals Club by saying "good riddance." Hammurabi was a man who knew how to take care of business.

Exhibit B: The Nigerian government is all set to give the definition of homophobia a quantum leap. They are considering legislation that would make it a crime for gay people, essentially, to even exist (as if it weren't enough that they already stone them to death there). Any public meeting in which one or more attendee is gay would be illegal; so that would include having lunch, as well as, oh, a gay person buying groceries, if the checker at the supermarket is straight. This is fear taken to lunacy. It's the kind of thing only Fred Phelps could love. I suppose it should come as no surprise that the Christian Right in the US looks upon Nigeria as some sort of role model to follow.

This is what you get in fanatically religious societies. Fear, hate, hypocrisy, and bizarre attitudes towards human sexuality that lead to violence. Say so, though, and you're a "militant atheist" who just doesn't recognize the "good things" religion does for people. Whatever.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A few nuggets from yesterday's show

The Atheist Experience is back after a few weeks of involuntary hiatus! Yesterday we had an unusually contentious show with a lot of people calling in to argue vigorously. Near the end, Matt declared someone to be "The best caller EVER!!!" thanks to his uncanny ability to answer his own questions, as in these two bits of dialogue:

Scene 1:
Russell: "So let me get your story straight. Your mother was on the brink of death, and then she was fine. And that's proof that God exists."
Caller: "Yes."
Russell: "Okay, what do you call it when a person is perfectly healthy and then drops dead? Is that proof that God does not exist?"
Caller: "No, that's just proof that whatever happens to that person happens."
Matt: "Congratulations! You get the caller of the day award for being honest and answering your own question!"

Scene 2 (one minute and one change of subject later):
Caller: "Why is God not real?"
Russell: "Do you believe in unicorns?"
Caller: "No."
Russell and Matt: "Why?"
Caller: "Because... unicorns are fairy tales, and it hasn't been proven that there is one."
Matt: "You ARE the best caller EVER! You can answer your own questions every time!"

After the show, I answered some email exploring topics that we'd touched on that day, and I thought I should share it.

Your beliefs, or lack thereof, are based on what you perceive to be empirical evidence. Have you been shown empirical evidence that god (or gods or higher beings) do not exist? All you've got is proof that you are alive (to the best of your knowledge) and that life is going to cease as you know it, and have had to and must continue to pay taxes until the end of this heretofore called life.

Instinctually, fine. But give the devil its due...

BTW, I'm playing devil's advocate, insofar as I can.

In the absence of evidence, not believing that something exists is the default position. Near the end of the show, I asked a caller if he believes in unicorns. He replied "No, because unicorns are fairy tales and it has not been proven that there is one." Even though that caller did believe in God "on faith" (i.e., without any evidence), he did not feel the need to justify his lack of belief in unicorns any further. He didn't need to provide additional evidence that there are no unicorns. He just said, as we would, that there isn't evidence FOR them.

There is a philosophical principle known as Occam's Razor. It states that once you take all the available information into account, the simplest explanation is generally the preferred one. That doesn't mean that another explanation can't replace it if new facts become available. However, if somebody insisted on me believing that unicorns exist, but said I had to take it on faith that they do, non-belief is still the default. The position "Yes there are unicorns" and "No there are not unicorns" are not equally good.

Do you agree with that, or are you going to start believing in unicorns now?

This is the second letter:

Towards the end of the show, you said something to the effect of "God is uncaused, therefore it's not illogical to think the universe is uncaused." Forgive me if I'm misrepresenting, but I can see why some ID-proponents use this reasoning to assert both are an equal matter of faith. Hoping you can elaborate more.

The situation LOOKS symmetrical, until you take into account the fact that what is really in question is not the origin of God, but the existence of God in the first place.

The existence of the universe is not in question. It's right here. We're in it. Neither theists nor atheists dispute the fact that there is a universe. But the existence of God is not established.

Now theists say "There has to be a God, because God is a necessary condition for the universe to exist." Why? Because "Nothing can exist unless something caused it, and nothing causes itself." But then they go on to say, as the caller did, that "God is the alpha and the omega, he was uncaused and doesn't need a beginning."

The problem is that it flatly contradicts the premise of the argument. If NOTHING can be uncaused, then God (being something) can't be uncaused either. If something (such as God) CAN be uncaused, then that invalidates the reason why God supposedly "must" exist.

Was the universe uncaused? We have no idea, of course. But the universe definitely exists. So which is harder to swallow? That a universe (which definitely exists) is uncaused? Or that there is a previously undetected, unevidenced being who is greater and more powerful than the entire universe, with super-intelligence, who answers prayer and meddles in six billion lives, and THAT thing is uncaused?

There are other possibilities, of course. For example, the universe may be caused by something else uncaused, but it is in no way god-like, and has no intelligence. Or it's caused by something in a previous universe, which is caused by a previous universe, and so on, and there is no first cause. I'm not proposing that any of these possibilities is "right", but only that lacking an explanation does not force us to invent a super-intelligent hyperbeing unless we have any other good reasons to think that there is one.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The fundies' continued obsession with fudge-packin' and rug-munchin'!

Fundamentalist Christians' obsession with homosexuality baffles me. That anyone at all would care what two consenting adults do in the bedroom points, I humbly submit, to an unhealthy psychology. I can't say I have much reason to give gay people and their private lives a moment's thought, and my best friend in the world is a femme lesbian who makes most Hollywood actresses look like five miles of bad road. The homophobia of the Christian Right has been a long-established reality, but it takes on a whole new character when they start having conferences and symposia on the subject.

The Exodus Freedom Conference has been running for 31 years now, teaching gay people that they have to deny their identities and hate themselves if they want to achieve "Christ-likeness". It's a practice we saw work so very well in the case of Ted Haggard. Anything at all is better than catchin' teh gay, and the Exodus people are there to help!

Just looking through the list of seminar topics, we see just how much these folks' views on every area of human sexuality that doesn't fall under the rubric "straight married Christians makin' a baby Christian" is informed by fear, confusion, guilt, and mistrust of one's own body and biological urges. Here we see the Christian mantra of "sin" driven in with a sledgehammer; these tingly feelings you have are evil, you're evil for having them, and you need to get right with God pronto if you have a hope of entering dem pearly gates.

The Sin Cycle: Breaking the Cycle of Repetitive Sin and Moving Forward
Sometimes it is hard to see the possibility for change when our lives seem dominated by repeated and cyclical destructive behavior. But Change does happen and the cycle of sin can be broken. This workshop will explore an amazing picture of how we get stuck in cycles of sin and, most importantly, how to open your self to change and how to move forward in freedom.

Cyclical destructive behavior is quite an ugly reality when it comes to things like drug abuse, violence, or criminal activity. But remember, the Exodus folks are using this label to guilt people of a Particular Sexual Preference, and that's pretty ugly too.

Things get weirder further on. Just who the fark would get up in front of a roomful of people and identify themselves as a "chronic masturbator"? You might as well guiltily confess, "I'm a former bag-a-day chocolate chip cookie eater," with the only difference being that masturbation doesn't have all the saturated fat.

Finding Freedom From Masturbation
Often in our recovery we trade one vice for another in an effort to medicate from our pain. Many have given up sex with others in exchange for self-sex, considering it the lesser of two evils. A former chronic masturbator shares her struggle to overcome her habit and the shame, guilt, and contempt that accompanied. This class will explore whether masturbation is sin, are there special circumstances when it is not, tips and techniques to increase self-control, the importance of accountability, and the role of thought life.

I'd love to have a transcript of this one; I'm sure it's at least as delightful as the legendary Mormon Guide to Self-Control.

Now with this one, things get both hilarious and surreal.

Escaping the Gaytrix
In the blockbuster trilogy, The Matrix, moviegoers are challenged to explore a fundamental theme we can all relate too: what is the truth underlying reality? This workshop will challenge and explore how gay defined reality is a complete system of beliefs, moral code and philosophy presented as imposed reality on all those who have same sex attraction. Christ presents a complete paradigm shift that initially feels like Morpheus’ statement “Welcome to the desert of the real,” but in reality, while Truth may be initially foreign and difficult, Jesus leads us to the abundant Life found in contentment in Christ. This workshop will help us all view life with same sex attraction in the Light of Truth instead of imposed gay ideology.

You think these wackjobs are projecting just a wee bit when they go on about "imposed ideologies"?

Here's a fascinating article on just how wrong-headed and simplistic the Exodus folks are in their attempts to examine human sexuality and "cure" gays, and the way in which these "ex-gay" ministries are actually, repellently, exploiting emotional vulnerabilities in order to inculcate more guilt and rake in a whole new flock of dependent followers.

"Sure, there are some people out there who say that they've been cured," he says. "Either they're greatly in denial and they are living a life to satisfy the perceived demands of a harsh God or they are bisexual, which is a rare possibility, or that they were really never gay in the first place. There are a lot of people in ex-gay groups who were molested and therefore think they're gay."

Again, one only needs to go back to The Wonderful Week of Haggard to contrast the shame and scandal surrounding his outing — loaded down as it was with the baggage of Christian anger, fear, and loathing — with the very positive, happy and healthy vibes radiating from celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass, who were coming out around the same time. Being gay is just a reality for some people. Deal with it. Attaching self-loathing and guilt to it is abominably abusive, especially when it's a guilt tied to fear of the wrath of a nonexistent deity.

They're dropping like flies in Colorado

First Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes with their clandestine gay trysts, and now Donald Armstrong, rector of the Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, is in the hot seat for "possible misuse of church funds." Without any specifics being revealed, the imagination, of course, runs wild.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

For your enjoyment: Ring in 2007 with some Pat Robert-fun!

The nefarious Pat Robertson continues to inhale air and exhale laughing gas. His latest act of saying something outrageous to get headlines and attention is this little gem: he thinks jillions of us are going to be kilt by terrorists this year, and Da Big G gave him the lowdown himself!

"The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him about the impending tragedy during a recent prayer retreat.

God also said, he claims, that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

It is, perhaps, the greatest thing in the world for atheists when fundamentalist nutbars go off on one of these "God spoke to me" benders. The creativity value is literally boundless. Sure, I know it isn't nice to mock the mentally handicapped, but then, this is Pat "God's sending a tsunami" Robertson we're on about here. I feel I can bend the rules of common decency just a wee bit. So! Let's start with the whole thing about how he got this breaking news about our national security from God Himself! The scene fades in on an average, sunny Tuesday morning in the CBN offices...


An elderly, avuncular man, PAT ROBERTSON, in an immaculate business suit, sits at a sprawling mahogany desk decorated with family photos. The wall behind him features more photos of himself, posing with politicians and presidents, and a massive portrait of Jesus Christ, autographed, "To Pat, from your pal, J., Xmas — how bout that eggnog! Wooo! XXOO"

The intercom buzzes. Robertson, who has been muttering to himself under his breath, looks up, startled. Wiping a string of drool from his lower lip, he flicks the button with a shaky hand.


(V/O intercom)
Mr. Robertson? God. Line one.

Oh...! Ah, yes, I'll...take it right away.

Robertson flicks another switch, activating a speaker-phone.

(clearing throat)
Ahem...this is P...uh, I mean, my Lord...?

(V/O speaker-phone)
Pat! Buddy! What's up? How's the "little steeple"?

Oh! Uh...heh heh. Just, uh, just fine, Lord, heh...

Aw, don't be such a prude! It's your own damn fault. Always told you you should jack off more.

Robertson blushes deeply, is too embarrassed to speak.

Aw, I'm just messin' with ya. Don't take it personal. Listen, can't talk long, I just wanted to drop a line and give you a heads-up on the next terror attack.

Oh dear. Oh dear dear dear. Will it — uh — will it be...big?

Hmmm...yeah. Pretty big. Good size one, anyway.

Oooh dear. I knew it. Those Muslims...if they would only confess their sins, give their hearts to your Son...

Yeah, it's a pisser. What can you do, eh?

So...another attack. I just know there's a scripture pointing right to this, but in Your wisdom, Lord, it's up to me to study Your word and find it myself. And I will, Lord, I will.

Right, right. Good plan. What I like to see. Some real word-studying. That old Bible of mine won't interpret itself, you know!

Will it be nuclear?

Will what be nuclear?

The, uh, attack, Lord.

Oh yeah! That. Uhhh... no comment.

I beg y...I mean, I'm sorry Lord?

I just think I'd rather not say. About the whole nuclear part.

But...why? I mean, I know I'm not supposed to question you, don't think that! I'm just...

Curious, sure, I gotcha. Well, you know how it is. I just better not say. Can't be seen interfering with that whole "free will" thing.

That's true, very true. But...well, no. It's a sin to question you, Lord...

Naw, go ahead, ask me. It's cool.

I was just thinking a hint would be nice. I mean, the, heh heh, the Orlando thing was a little embarrassing, you know. Not that I'd ever let on...

Yeah, that one was pretty fuckin' stupid even for you. Okay, hint. Let's say... sometime this fall, definitely not September this time, how about after. And, um, big major American cities, millions dead, all that good stuff.

Oh, goodness. Oh, dear. But...Lord, wouldn't it be best to tell, you know, Mr. Bush, the CIA...they could get organized, prevent the attack this time...

Pat, sweety, you and I both know Bush and his boys couldn't organize an orgy in a whorehouse. I mean, even you were able to figure out the Iraq war was stupid, which puts it right at the top of the list of stupidest things of all time. And besides, it's you who is my most trusted spokesman and representative on Earth. You're the man I trust most with the most solemn duties in My Holy Name. None other has what it takes to do his duty by Me.

A tear falling from one eye, Robertson sits up tall in his chair.

I hear and obey, Lord. You are the truth, the way and the light, and in Jesus' precious name, I promise I will not fail you. I will do what must be done to warn humanity.

You da man, Pat. Look, gotta run. Always enjoy our little chin-wags. Give the wife a kiss, and tell Falwell to lay off the fuckin' eclairs. I don't want his fat ass up here that soon. Shit.

Hallowed be thy name, o Lord, I...

The line clicks dead. Robertson clicks his intercom. No sign of the physical frailty he possessed minutes ago is present.

Get me the news desk, right away.


GOD snaps shut his flip phone and smiles. Camera pulls back to reveal a poker table, around which sit JESUS, LUCIFER, and THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER. There is a moment of quiet, then all of them burst out laughing.

God, you asshole!

Hey, it's Pat. You gotta love the guy!

SAINT PETER enters, carrying a case of Heineken and three extra-large Domino's pizzas.

Which one of you guys had the hand-tossed with extra pepperoni?

Hey, none of those better be anybody I know!

GOD looks over to JESUS and LUCIFER.

So...a little bird tells me you crazy kids are getting married!


Monday, January 01, 2007