Short Stack #9

The next atheist book I write, I’m having it printed on the tanned skins of raptured Christians.

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Chinese New Year tomorrow! We enter the Year of the Dragon, the year of my birth! Yes, I am a Dragon!

And no, I’m not breathing fire just to prove it.

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I was out running with my dog one time, and I slipped on a wet rock and fell down. Knocked the breath completely out of me. I had a quick vision of my heroic German shepherd running to get help. Instead, he thought I was playing, and pounced all four feet right onto the center of my chest. Even after I got my breath back from the fall, I could barely breathe for laughing.

I have a scar on my leg from one of his berzerker dog-fights. Safety tip: If you try to break up a couple of hundred-pound dogs, it’s going to be YOUR dog that bites you. Angered me something fierce at the time, but now I look at that scar and smile. It’s my one tattoo, and it was applied by an old friend.

Fond memories.

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I don’t begrudge people their beliefs.

However, I remain convinced that I have every right to ARGUE with them. ESPECIALLY when they bring those “beliefs” into the marketplace, into schools, into government. Which they DO.

Hey, if they can do that stuff with a clear conscience, I’m damned sure not going to sit quietly and go “Oh, we just have to respect their beliefs.”

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Arguing with a bubblehead online: “If you think science education means ‘teach both sides and let the kids decide for themselves,’ you don’t know a goddamned thing about science. Jesus, if people like you vote, we are fucking doomed.”

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This is what happens when you let religion go unchallenged: Smugly ignorant morons think their stupid ideas should be taught in schools … not to THEIR kids, because they can do that at home, but to OTHER PEOPLE’S kids.

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I don’t remember walking 8 miles through snow to get to school, but I DO remember when you could tear open an envelope of taco seasoning with just your fingers.

It’s like the makers of that stuff are expecting some sort of hellish catastrophe. We’ll paw our way up out of the rubble and exclaim, “We’re going to make it, thank God! The taco seasoning survived intact!”

And then we’ll just pray we can find some scissors.

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We lived in a REALLY poor part of town when I was a kid. We were so poor, we couldn’t afford Kentucky Fried Chicken. But fortunately the Colonel had a back-door policy to sell the less-appetizing parts of the chickens to people like us. I especially liked the Hot Feet, the Chicken Skin Nuggets, and the Bucket-O-Beaks.

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Scene: The cat is in the kitchen, quietly eating. I come in and begin making my breakfast fruit smoothie, and she ignores me, as usual. When I get everything into the blender, I close the kitchen door so the blender noise won’t wake my roomie, and the cat immediately goes into frantic “I knew they were going to kill me sooner or later! Oh, God, here it comes!” mode. Apparently, to a cat, a closed door is the same as a death threat.

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When parents drop the ball: There are at least 60 people in the U.S. named “Ben Dover.”

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I’m unusually short for a man in the U.S. Grown up, I’m 5’3” tall. When I was a kid, it colored all of my life.

One day when I was about 17, I was at my brother’s house, and one of his coworkers came by, a guy who was no taller than me. But he was totally unself-conscious about it. It just wasn’t part of his thinking. And I thought, how can you get to BE like that?

I finally figured out you just have to Get Over It. At some point, I realized, no matter how much I might yearn for it, I wasn’t going to get any taller. And then it was suddenly okay to be short. To be me.

That’s a taste of what I mean by being a whole, complete person. You accept yourself. And get on with life.

In terms of baldness, the Wise Old Saying I Just Made Up is: “Once you lose half your hair, the pressure’s off.”

This sort of understanding has to be a part of you if you want to live in the real world. Someday you just have to accept that you’re not going to get the Ultimate Answer. That there aren’t going to be any miracles.

You do the best you can with what you’ve got. And get on with life.

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Man, Zombie High School Yearbooks would be boring. Everybody’s bio would say:

Favorite Food: BRAAaaainnzz!
Favorite TV Show: BRAAaaainnzz!
Favorite Song: BRAAaaainnzz!

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I just discovered I can speak into my phone and it will type into my status window. Blows me away — no keyboarding! Thank you, Jesus, for technology! Oh, wait …

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Just realized the Aliens movies were a metaphor for religious conversion.

Like when Mormons come to your door and put a facehugger on you, and later the baby alien bursts out of your chest and begins to kill your neighbors. That’s totally the same thing.

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Considering the similarity of the words, it seems believable that one very bright guy came up with Who, What, Where, When, and Why. And no doubt we owe that ancient genius an immense debt of gratitude.

But without knowing a single further fact about him, I can tell you he was a hopeless dreamer who accomplished nothing else of note in his life … because he left it up to someone else to come up with How.

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When I was young, I fancied that I was a towering intellect. And for sure, I grew up past some of the people around me. But it was like being the tallest blade of grass, soaring up into the sunlight and suddenly noticing the trees all around.

Some people would come to this same realization and wish for a chainsaw.

Me? I want to go into the woods and scatter fertilizer.

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If I was married, my wife would divorce me for the way I feel about my electric blanket.

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Something I love: Pour a glass half full with orange juice, the kind with lots of pulp. Fill it the rest of the way with any other sort of fruit juice. It looks disgusting, but it’s good. I call it Ugly Juice.

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The formerly-feral cat in my life has been in the house for about a year now, but has yet to acquire a name. Sometimes I call her Kitty Bit or Miss Kitty, but I’ve also lately taken to referring to her as Ankle Shark, after the way she throws herself against my lower legs when I walk into the kitchen in the morning.

I also suspect that animal researchers realized this certain fact about cats years and years ago, but have never dared say it in public, for fear they’d be destroyed by cat lovers. But okay, here it is: Compared to dogs, cats are actually pretty darned stupid. I’m sorry, cat lovers, but it’s true. Intellectually speaking, cats are like bricks with legs and fur. Doesn’t mean we can’t love ‘em, but … bricks.

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If the alternate worlds theory is right, somewhere out there, every one of us is a black lesbian.

Except the black lesbians, who are probably rich, old white guys who play golf a lot.

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Something every person subject to being called for jury duty should know: “Jury nullification” is not something that happens to juries, it’s something juries can DO. Jury members can decide not just on the guilt or innocence of the accused, but on the fairness of the law itself. They can refuse to convict based on their own conscience as to whether the law in question is a fair and just one.

And you just bet your ass judges and lawyers live in mortal fear that this fact will gain widespread notice.

Why am I telling you? Ha! Guess.

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Few people know there are sins so big that after God drags you down to hell for all eternity, he comes back and snatches up your grandmother and takes her down there too, in a holy retribution two-fer.

Texting in a theater during the movie, so that your bright little screen flashes in everybody’s eyes, I think that’s one of them.

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Camera lenses, round. Photographs, square. Hmm.

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Lesser-known Yoga postures: Feisty Crab, Giraffe Contemplating His Toes, Salute to the Nun, Rude Dog Licking.

Rude Dog Licking can be accomplished only by advanced Yoga masters and certain porn film stars.

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I’m thinking of rewriting The Art of War for a high school nerd audience. I’m going to call it The Art of Wedgie.

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For decades during the early 1800s, the major food source in Tierra del Fuego was Christian missionaries.

Just kidding.

There was a story in a book I read not long back, I think it was “Evolution’s Captain” by Peter Nichols, about Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle with Captain Fitzroy.

During this period, European Christian missionaries raised money for an expedition to Tierra del Fuego to save the souls of the savage Fuegans. They outfitted a ship and sailed there.

When they got there, they were offloaded from their ship with three boats, and headed for the mainland. Two of the boats, which contained most of their provisions and equipment, sank in rough seas.

The missionaries decided God was testing their faith. They thought he would surely send them a rescue in time, if they only believed hard enough and waited on the beach.

One of them kept a journal, which was found later. Several times they actually discussed going inland to hunt and build shelters but decided this would be an insult to God. So they waited.

They sat on that beach until every one of them died of starvation and exposure.

About the same time, a group of sailors were shipwrecked on a nearby island. The sailors built shelters, fished, hunted, and gathered plants to eat. When they were found, over a year later, they were healthier than the sailors on the ship that rescued them.

Because of their religion, the missionaries just sat there and died. To me, that looks exactly like mental illness.

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If the Christian god is unknowable, it’s silly to pretend you can make definitive statements about him. A thing can’t be both “unknowable” and “known” at the same time. To claim the unknowable has definable qualities is absurd … to claim you know what they are, absurdier.

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Every religion I was ever personally exposed to presented the doorway into all this goodness ONLY through that religion. In other words, you could be truly good ONLY if you accepted the existence and teachings of the (for instance) Methodist-flavor Jesus. If you were a Presbyterian or a Buddhist or an atheist, you might still well be headed for a flaming hell, good acts or no good acts.

Religion always seems to me to be a black hole with near-infinite gravity for people’s attention to the subject of goodness. For some people, you can’t talk about, you can’t even THINK about Good without talking about their god first. Goodness gets mixed up with, and polluted by, the sectarian nonsense because the people trapped in it can’t imagine anything else.

I just realized I could express the core of my objection in a rough equation:

X – R = G

If you have X amount of energy and attention to give to good acts, and if sectarian religious demands, R, use up some of that energy and attention, you end up with a maximum goodness output of G.

It sure seems to make sense to me that G has to end up being some lesser value than it could be, in individuals as well as in societies, the more sectarianism sucks up people’s time and energy. Considering that religious people have frequently throughout history produced hugely evil acts, you can clearly see that G can be a negative value.

This is not because the people of those times and places were bad people, but because they were actually restricted from doing broad good, or commanded to participate in acts of wickedness, by the dominant religious paradigm of their time and place. (Note that I’m specifically addressing religiously-inspired acts of wickedness, and not implying that people can’t be just as mean outside religions.)

A good example of this less-good-than-possible might be the very existence of churches. The city I live near has a very large number of huge, imposing chapels that tie up boatloads of value just in their soaring stonework-and-stained-glass structures alone, to say nothing of the tax-free land they occupy.

Sure, people need a place to meet, to get their weekly dose of reminders to be good, but they hardly need these multi-million dollar cathedrals, set on some of the most expensive (and un-taxed) land in the city. Especially considering that, right alongside those structures, poverty and ignorance, environmental destruction and government graft still exist.

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Anytime Christians and rationalists get into a tiff — say the Dover trial over “intelligent design,” or the more recent Jessica Ahlquist prayer banner issue, the rationalists get death threats. But the Christians never do. That says something, right there.

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Whatever you do, don’t dare question religious authorities, or the cops. Don’t dare to think that YOU can actually figure things out on your own, that YOU have a right to a voice, and that your views can be something different from theirs.

That’s the philosophy of slaves. “We should all just do whatever the Big People tell us to do. After all, they know best. That’s why they’re Big People.”

Ugh. Nasty. Worse than just drinking the poison, that’s showing up eagerly with your own cup.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    It’s true about cats. That thing about dogs that makes them looooooove us and get us? That’s an extra bit of brain, that cats don’t have. Expanded, it’s the prefrontal cortex that we have – I think. I might have that wrong. I read it recently in some brain book, possibly Patricia Churchland’s braintrust. It might not be the pfc. But it is the same kind of brain development that ends up with theory of mind.

    Also interesting is that dogs understand pointing and chimps don’t.

    • BinJabreel

      Think I remember reading in a neurology class somewhere that the average cat is dumber than the average dog, but the spread of potential intelligences is wider in cats than in dogs, so the smartest possible cat is nearly, or at least as, clever as the smartest possible dog.

      Which would explain the cat in my house who uses one paw to pull a single kibble of dog food out of the bowl, then sits, dunking it into the water dish until it’s soft enough for her to eat.

  • ohioobserver

    “Arguing with a bubblehead online: “If you think science education means ‘teach both sides and let the kids decide for themselves,’ you don’t know a goddamned thing about science. Jesus, if people like you vote, we are fucking doomed.””

    And he knows damned little about education, too.

  • Luna_the_cat

    Dogs more intelligent than cats: only people who have never lived with an Irish Setter could possibly say this.

    • Hank Fox

      Okay, I’ll admit I missed that detail. Irish Setters are a special case.

      • machintelligence

        That’s what happens when you breed for coat color to the exclusion of everything else.

      • BinJabreel

        Even though I see “special case” dozens of times a week in random science papers, I feel like it’s never had that particular elementary-school-short-bus-emphasis on “special” when I hear it read in my mind.

  • Mr Creazil

    Oh my Gandhi, Hank is a Dragonborn.

    Use The Voice, Hank! Prove you are Dovahkiin!

  • stripey_cat

    Is it wrong of me to want a T-shirt with a Mormon facehugger on it now?

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    Jury nullification

    I was on a jury for a criminal case. During deliberations we decided that while the defendant had done something, he hadn’t actually done what the prosecution accused him of. One person suggested the foreman announce the verdict: “We find the defendant not guilty and admonish him never to do it again.” The foreman chickened out.

  • Otrame

    Dogs were bred to DO things for centuries. Cats already knew how to do the main thing we needed from them. There is, however, a wide variation in the intelligence of cats.

    I read somewhere that dogs understand human body language better than chimps do. They’ve been with us a long time, nearly as long as we’ve been H. sapiens. And they always kept up their end of the bargain better than we did.

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    Field bred Irish Setters are not dumb. The most consistently stupid breed in my experience is the Cocker Spaniel . They are either goofy and dumb as a rock or (more often) ill-tempered and dumber than a rock.

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    And yes, the rationalists get the death threats. Also, notice theists never allow unmoderated comments. They also turn off like/dislike on YouTube. Fucking intellectual cowards.

  • F

    Ha! I love the stack.

  • Richard Simons

    Regarding juries: I once heard a story that a poor person was accused of stealing a pig from a much-disliked wealthy land owner. The English jury found him not guilty but he had to return the pig.

  • judykomorita

    I love short stacks, too. Always a few that make me giggle, and always a few that make me really think.

    Love your metaphor of the blade of grass looking at the trees!

    Dogs v. Cats: One is a social, hierarchical creature, the other is solitary (exception: lions). That makes for two different types of intelligence. One of my favorite definitions for intelligence is: tell the animal to “look,” then point your finger somewhere else. If the animal looks at you or sniffs your finger, it’s not intelligent. If it looks where you’re pointing, it’s intelligent.

    FIJA: Not an expert by any means, but I have heard that many or most judges will not allow jury nullification to be brought out in a trial, and most prosecutors will not place a panelist on the jury if the panelist believes in nullification. However, if you keep it secret, you may get away with using it in your judgment. And boy, do I think it ought to be used often.

    Yoga: trying to figure out what Salute To The Nun looks like…

    And: Love the last line.

    Kool-Aid should be renamed “Kook-Aid.” Religions Ad: “Make mine purple.”

  • Robert B.

    It looks like mental illness, but it’s not, because anyone can potentially get in that state. Or perhaps, it’s an illness of poor hygiene rather than a congenital defect (metaphorically speaking.) Sometimes I worry that comparing religion to mental illness makes atheists think they don’t have to worry about making similar mistakes themselves, just because they’ve dodged the bullet in one case. Cognitive bias is everyone’s problem.

    (Not that I disagree at all with the criticism of religion which was the actual point. Religion is frigging cognitive poison.)

  • arakasi

    I’ve always figured that the difference between dogs and cats is this:

    If you lived alone and died in your sleep, a dog will starve for three days before using you as a food source.

    Cats… well, there is a reason why they sit on you and paw at your face every morning.

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—-Happy New Year, everyone!

    Jury nullification–although I’ve never heard it called that–was how Dr. Henry Morgentaler changed the abortion law in Canada. First of all, he spoke at a conference and said abortion should be legal. Suddenly, hundreds of desperate women started calling him. He couldn’t legally do abortions but he saw the suffering that the law caused. So he decided to challenge the law. His practice became mostly contraception and vasectomies. He announced that he was doing abortions. The Quebec government arrested him. He described what he was doing. The women testified about why they went to him. The juries wouldn’t convict him. The second time (I think) the province appealed and the appeal court found him guilty and he went to prison. But it lead to a new amendment to Canada’s bill of rights, the Morgentaler Amendment, stating that a jury acquittal can not be overturned on appeal. After the third jury acquittal, the province gave up and started revising the law to allow abortions. He went on to train doctors and open clinics in other provinces. Abortion has been legal in Canada for over 25 years.


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