Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: June, 2009

The Weak Faith of the Unfaithful Republicans

This post has been updated at my column. If you read it there I’ll make a few cents.

Here is the part where a socially liberal, militant atheist, pajama’d blogger trumpets the blatant hypocrisy of politicians and leaders of the religious right who find their names in little black books, take wide stances in public bathrooms, use party funds to keep the kid quiet, or take long hikes through Appalachia. Ha! You see?? They all ride around on their high moral horses and then they blah, blah, blah, blah.

Joe Conason at Salon has already done the definitive smackdown of GOP moralism, and I certainly don’t need to do a rehash. I’m less interested in the blatant double standard, and more interested in the role religion plays in these affairs, or rather, the role it never gets to play.

I don’t see the recent GOP sex scandals as an indictment of their religion or the tenets thereof (plenty of time for that later). Christians all, and every one of them extremely noisy about it, surely. But I think their failures only go to show how little power these myths really have when competing with other irresistible supernatural forces such as the boobies of someone who isn’t your wife (also known as “two magnificent parts of yourself”). You know the backdrop: Senator Ensign was a central backer of the entirely too weird Promise Keepers phenomenon, which was all about becoming a better Christian and, oh yes, keeping promises. “God’s law,” meanwhile, was one of Governor Sanford’s many refrains at his own press-confessional. Etcetera.

All that may serve to make Sanford (etcetera) seem penitent, but I think that misses the point. “God’s law” sounds pretty huge to me. If you are as devout a believer as Sanford declares himself to be, you’d think that the notion of “God’s law” would be the end-all-be-all, not to be crossed any more than one would cross the particle beams of a positron collider. It’s one thing to do 45 in a 25 mph zone, but this is God’s law we’re talking about here! But oh, those two magnificent parts! Screw God’s law, right? When something so comparatively trivial can trigger the flouting of the revealed word of the creator of the universe (who is reading your thoughts and watching you touch both of that nice Argentinian lady’s magnificent parts), I begin to doubt how seriously you really take this creed of yours.

And let’s keep in mind: It was not the wrenching guts of a tortured soul that got Sanford, Vitter, Ensign, or Craig to fess up. They didn’t fear for their timeshares in the afterlife, nor did they see a vision of a tut-tutting Jesus hovering over them while in passionate throes. They held their conferences, released their dour statements, and apologized to those unwise enough to have faith in them, because they got caught. Had there not been some intrepid journalists, law enforcement, or aggrieved parties ready to blow the whistle, those men would have gone on doing what they were doing, keeping a bag over Jesus’s head, pretending he wasn’t there. I know he’s not there, but that’s not what they’re supposed to think.

This is about the saddest example of religious devotion I’ve ever heard.

It’s not enough that these guys buy into a bronze age myth about an ultra-judgmental superdaddy in the sky, and it’s not enough that they shove the made-up dictates of that fictional overlord down our throats, but they don’t even have the strength to even try live up to those rules themselves — they show no evidence of having any real intention of doing so. If they really thought they were going to suffer eternal damnation and disappoint God himself, they would have at least put the brakes on a little sooner, don’t you think? If I were Yahweh, I’d be feeling pretty disregarded right about now.

So not only should you not “do as they say, not what they do,” you shouldn’t even believe what they say, because whether they’re conscious of it or not, they don’t really believe it either.

I betray you and you and you and you…

Time to Be a Solid Citizen

I just had an enlightening telephone conversation with my dad. It’s Father’s Day for him, and in a way it is for me too as an expectant dad, and it was an apt time to reflect upon where we are in our lives, how we got here, and where we’re going.

I lamented my sense of entrenched aimlessness — an oxymoron, I know, but it suits my situation; unsure of what I’m doing, but having no choice but to do it. Dad gave this state of being a name, which sometimes helps to make something feel less overwhelming.

I am someone who might rather be engaging in purely creative pursuits, who is alien to the world of professionals and networking and strategy, who would prefer to do what I want to do — when I get around to it, and I am not now in my native state. But I have a wonderful wife and a good home and a baby on the way, all of whom need my attention to duty to keep us fed, housed, and comfortable. This state of being Dad calls “Solid Citizen.” Dad is himself — perhaps more than I am — a creative type with no inclinations to be part of the real, grownup world. But he, too, had to make the best of things when he and Mom had two young boys to look after. Instead of being the wandering troubadour, he had to make being a good dad work. He did, and he converted to Solid Citizen mode.

In Solid Citizen mode, it’s not okay to forgo air conditioning, even though you remember living without it in your early twenties. The Solid Citizen can’t merely take a crummy day job, get fired after a few weeks, and collect unemployment. No, he must get a dependable job (perhaps even a career) that includes health insurance. Oh, and you can’t go without health insurance as a Solid Citizen, though you were fine spending hours waiting at the health clinic when you got sick, yes, in your early twenties.

The implication of this being a “mode,” however, is that it might once again change. Perhaps lightning will metaphorically strike, and I will be able to provide the comforts of solid citizenship through more creative and happy efforts, on my own terms. Perhaps it will be twenty years from now when the baby-to-be is away at college, and all financial obligations are met. However it happens I hope that one day I can go back to being more of a Gelatinous Citizen, comfortable in my uncontainable ooziness, content that the solid parts were all taken care of.


If you are a subscriber to this blog’s feed, you may have just gotten hit with a ton of material from other blogs. This was an accident of my experiments with merging my blogging projects into one, which, of course, was bound to get screwed up at some point. Those posts should be gone (I hope), and my apologies for the influx of irrelevant material.

The Clothes Unmake the Man

Like Halloween, only miserable.I am naturally shy. Let me rephrase. I am unnaturally shy. The very notion of socialization with people I am not already entirely comfortable with makes me physically ill. The areas of my brain responsible for creativity, logic, and motor functions all go utterly haywire when circumstances demand I “mix.” The anxiety that “networking” and small-talking and shit-shooting cause me is simply ridiculous. It would be hilarious if it didn’t suck so much.

Having said that, there’s a particular set of ingredients that amplify this effect: shirts and ties.

I’m not one of those folks who balks at the idea of dressing semi-professionally. Truly, I think I often prefer it to the office environment in which anything goes. It gives one a sense of purpose, promotes the idea that while we’re all here, we’re going to do something that takes effort and concentration, and so we don the uniform.

But then I put on a button-down shirt. I put on a tie. I wear something like khakis instead of jeans. I wear “shoes” instead of “decaying, filthy sneakers.” I don’t even have to be jacketed or be-suited. These elements in place of my usual clothes, I think, make me even more insecure, more unsure of myself.

Not that it’s any more or less uncomfortable than anything else. And it’s not that I disdain the aesthetic. What is it, then?

I have a hypothesis. I imagine myself suddenly thrown into the military, everyone around me in their uniforms, while I am trying to pass as one of them, only I am wearing camouflage pajamas. Or I am mistakenly placed on a baseball team, and as players warm up their swings with Louisville Sluggers, I have a big red Nerf bat.

I think the problem is that I feel like I am pretending to be one of the be-suited, one of the tie-wearers, but knowing that I’m not one of them. Sure, I technically have the correct gear (which could come in the form of clothes, but it can also be a job title or a degree), but everyone sees through it: I’m wearing a costume.

So the issue isn’t the clothes, of course. The clothes are just a part of the costume. It’s the pretending that seems so untenable. When I am going about my business as a reasonably-competent human being in a world of informed, confident, driven professionals, I intuit that I am alien, poorly disguised. Once I open my mouth, or I am noticed even in the slightest, my ruse will be discovered.

I’m not really sure what would be so bad about that. But that lack of surety is enough.

A Social Network about Nothing

Speaking of 2[Y], Viktor Nagornyy’s latest post reveals his unexplained expulsion from the atheist social network site ThinkAtheist. He writes:

I actually think the guy behind it created as a money-making venture, and supporting atheism is either not important or not part of the plan. [ . . . ] I highly encourage you leave ThinkAtheist. Stop filling that dude’s pockets with money, he doesn’t deserve it.

I don’t know anything about the financial claims, I should say. Nagornyy goes on to praise Atheist Nexus, a similar service that predates ThinkAtheist. This got me thinking.

I have not delved seriously into either one, as time simply hasn’t been available. But from my own very shallow, anecdotal experience, Atheist Nexus has provided me with more substantive interaction than ThinkAtheist, though that could be a mere accident of who I happened to interact with and when. I have made some meaningful connections on ThinkAtheist, and have found it a good place to tell my own story on a couple of occasions, but no more so than at Atheist Nexus.

Purely cosmetically, I have never liked the hipster fashion catalogue aesthetic of ThinkAtheist, but I usually chalk that up to my astounding lack of coolness.

What has your experience been? Have you had problems similar to Nagornyy’s? Do you use both services, or do you prefer one over the other? I’d like to know. Tell me, and I’ll report back.

Strike a Sym-pose

Humanist Symposium #38 is up, very professionally and smartly done by Viktor Kagornyy at 2[Y]. Yes, of course I’m featured. Perish any other thought.

Feed Me All Night Long

I’m considering eviscerating my RSS reader.

During the presidential campaign, it was apparently essential that I be subscribed to every major and semi-major political blog so that I could be informed, second by second, of every twist and turn. Then, I got on this whole godless kick and I am now subscribed a mountain of atheist blogs. Of course, I’m a Mac nut and an appreciator of new technology and gadgets, so there’s another truckload of titles adding to the pile. Then there are the funny feeds, the music feeds, stuff about jobs, and myriad other things I’ve picked up on the way.

My Google Reader hasn’t dropped the “1000+” number in ages.

Perhaps it’s time to trim. I open my reader, and I feel like I have work to do. Wouldn’t one or two political blogs do it? Perhaps tack on Slate or some such to get some extra cultural context? What about news; do I just browse the front pages of the various papers’ websites, or do I pick one or two to feed?

I am myself one of those atheist bloggers, so don’t I need to keep up with all of the others in the community? Am I even capable of that? How is it that Hemant Mehta seems to be aware of everything going on in nonbelief news and bloggery? How does he stay on top of it all??

And my precious Apple news. How do I choose which rumor sites to axe? Which tip sites?

Oh, and let’s not forget all my news alerts for the subjects I write about!

And! And! Andrew Sullivan! He posts like four thousand times a day! Come on!

So what to get rid of? I’ll tell you what I’m not touching: I’ve gotten really into book/writing/publishing news — and not so much who’s writing what, but as in the future of “the book” or of “the newspaper,” etc. So Text Patterns, A Working Library, TeleRead, they stay. Until I lose interest.

But I don’t want my RSS reader to be like work anymore. But I also don’t want to miss anything. This is going to be hard. Like work.

I Won’t Have Missed Much

I am the first person to roll my eyes when another deep thinker releases some op-ed or magazine article expounding upon the virtues of disconnection from the modern world, how true happiness cannot be found until we burn our cellphones and use our laptops as clay pigeons. Technology is killing personal interaction, Google is making us stupid, and your face is going to freeze that way, mister. 700-word Luddite screeds, I have no use for.

But a piece from yesterday’s New York Times somewhat in that vein took a less, shall I say, insistent approach, and actually managed to catch me with one particular passage. Pico Iyer, an author who has eschewed most mass media and telecommunications, living ‘monastically’ outside of Kyoto, writes:

And when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven’t missed much at all. While I’ve been rereading P.G. Wodehouse, or “Walden,” the crazily accelerating roller-coaster of the 24/7 news cycle has propelled people up and down and down and up and then left them pretty much where they started.

As someone whose RSS reader is full of Google news alerts, whose day job is scouring the news for electoral hooks, whose intellectual passion is parsing the news for perspectives on atheism, and who lives and dies during election years by the second-by-second blips of the new media, this hit home.

I like my technology. I love my Mac, my iPhone, my Kindle, but I often love them as much for how they can take me away from the media bustle as connect me to it. This little bit of text (found using this very technology) made it somehow feel okay to walk away sometimes, if just for a while.

Where’s Paul-do?

Readers of this blog and my oft-plugged Examiner column will have noted (I hope) my absence. I apologize. I’ve started a new full-time job and have recently moved residences, and am still without Internet access in my new home.

Stay tuned, I hope to generate some new, compelling, rip-roaring content this weekend. Assuming I can find an on-ramp to the Information Superhighway.