Monthly Archives: July 2017

Coda

If I were a fireworks show, you’d probably want your money back. My first salvos were promising, but my launches started fizzling and we had several duds in the arsenal.

There certainly was no grand finale.

Because those fucking God stickers did not come off the Grovetown cop vehicles.

They won. This happened in part because I could not stay to finish playing the game I initiated. I had a few more moves in me, but a game is a game and I had other priorities.

Sorry for the metaphor abuse. I’m simply trying to paper over the fact that I did not, could not do more to go at this issue with gusto. Because I was in the right. The mayor made an idle threat, and I’m madder than hell he got away with it. Lots of you following this saga said I should have continued to um…dialogue with the mayor right then and there because I was well within my rights to do so. It became a two-pronged issue for me when he threatened me with a warrant for my arrest simply because I was having a battle of wits with an unarmed person. This was about abuse of power and separation. And to my mind, the stickers took a back seat to the idea that some podunk Boss Hogg  could send a squad car to my house because of an argument we were having in his public email box.

I’m gonna say sorry again, because I failed to advance the larger conversation. I could have made several scenes if it was just me out there, but as I have said it is not just me out there.

I’m going to keep fighting for my rights. I simply have to pick my battles. Those of you who are rational know that we live to fight another day if we withdraw a little, and find a better position where victory can actually be had.

My deepest thanks to everyone who sent me quasi-viral, and thanks to NBC in Atlanta and WRDW in Aiken for publicizing the sticker issue. It’s a trying time in the land of Trump, where bigots feel emboldened to steamroll over the Constitution if it gets in their way of retaining their supremacy.

The people will win in the end if we keep our heads high. That may be an article of faith, for the struggle for rights is not a vector that is always pointed forward. It gets dark sometimes before things brighten again. But knowing that the brightness will inevitably follow buoys me and helps me get up every day and it should you as well.

I’ll close here as Kurt Vonnegut often did in the introductions to his books.

Peace.

Eating My Words

Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that being humble and a bit penitent was unnecessary in my dustup with Mayor Gary Jones of Grovetown.

We made state news today. The coverage was better than what we got from Aiken.

In my last post here, I felt the need to clarify what had happened to me because I sent my story to Hemant Mehta of Patheos’ Friendly Atheist and his byline rocketed this sucker to what is shaping up to be more than regional attention. A LOT of you went to give Gary the sharp side of your tongue and fingers for fucking with atheist brethren by blowing up his phone, Facebook and email. And I told you all how much I appreciate you having my back. You didn’t have to do a thing, but you did, and I think that counts for something in a world where our community is uninvited. Yet, I felt that something had been misunderstood when Hemant wrote my story. If you didn’t read the entire email exchange between Jones and I, you might have gotten the impression that I was being threatened because I am a nonbeliever. I thought that was a mischaracterization of the situation and I have asked Hemant to post my clarifications and concerns, which he has done.

I have few issues personally with going at this head on, but I have a family. I have to be sure that I don’t expose them to danger. It is not safe here to not be a Christian. Yeah, I think we have common cause with whoever does not hold the majority faith, and you can fuck right off if you want to call me an accommodationist or what have you because I think we’re in the same hot water as minority religious sects.

Anyway, if you watch the segment, the reporter said at the end that Jones has no regrets about how he acted, after I struck a conciliatory tone because I lost my temper. He also said it WAS the persistent emailing, not the name calling (total bullshit). Oh, and that’s not all. It didn’t air, but the reporter has him on camera admitting that he was “bluffing” when he threatened me with arrest. I would very much like that footage, and I’m querying the reporter as to why it wasn’t part of the story.

The reporter also told me that Jones wants to shake my hand.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

I’m in contact with an organization who wants to create “E Pluribus Unum” decals for the cars and I think the only way I will meet with Jones is if I have those decals in my left hand.

So this chess match is in the middle game. I’m not going to seek any more publicity because once again, my hands are tied because I can’t ID myself locally and I am weary  from having to be faceless. But I will still be here documenting what is happening. I will seek an end to this controversy that is satisfactory to me and I think I can do that without selling out our cause. If that is not in the cards, if indeed the national media wants to run with this, then que sera sera and we’re on our way to challenging the motto itself instead of the mayor of my tiny, bustling city.

We Need To Take It Down A Notch

First off, I want to say thank you to everybody who saw my little story about a bullying small-town mayor and came to my defense.

However, a lot of  it was offense. Many of you have posted his phone number and his email address. I hope those routes are not personal ones.

You have every right to be enraged that one of us got shut down speaking their mind. But I want to remind everyone that I did not get in trouble because I was an atheist. I got threatened because I called the mayor some names, of which “jerk” was the harshest one.

This story is bigger than I ever expected it to be. And I know if I hadn’t gotten terse with the mayor, none of you would know about Grovetown  and the police decals. So there’s a little part of me that does not regret what I did, especially since I was well within my rights to call him a jerk in his government email.

I think there is a part of the mayor’s overreaction that has something to do with me being an atheist. But really, I just got under his skin with some name calling, which felt good. What he did after that is The Story. I implore you to read the entire email exchange here so you know that I was rude. He was derisive, dismissive, and disrespectful, so I let some insults fly. His responses after that were unbecoming of a public servant. If you can’t handle a little bit of name calling as a representative, you are in the wrong line of work.

Tonight, with any luck, there will be a story on NBC Atlanta that includes me being remorseful about what I have done. As Hemant said, he’d have handled it differently. I am not the mayor’s biggest fan right now, but I beg you, please don’t harass him unless you know why he threatened me. If you think you should tell him what for on account of free speech, let him have it. But do not jump from A to C by thinking it was merely my persistence or my irreligiosity.

Does everyone understand? This is the deep South. And I fear for my family if I get outed locally. It may happen anyway, but I’m trying to control that. As my wife said, we are a hated minority, and you all  know that is true. That goes double for the bible belt. So do my family and this story a favor, and know why this is happening before you fire away.

Once again, I am heartened by the solidarity of the online community of nonbelievers and am not telling you to let this die because these decals are bullshit and someone’s got to say no more. But you should probably do this without me, because I’m not a good example of how one should behave in a situation like this. Perhaps you have to get mad to get things happening. I don’t know. This may have been our only way into the conversation. Just make sure you all know why everyone involved lost their composure.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and pass it around so we let people know that integrity, accuracy and truth is important to us.

 

Tucker Carlson Is An Asshole According To Other Assholes

I keep returning to the asshole well. That’s because it doesn’t run dry.

In my to do list is to finish the goddamn story about how I became a lefty, and I’ve been compiling stories that suggest to me that something big is gonna go down in America, like in a violent way. When (or if) the Republican Party is finally exposed for the criminal organization that it is, I think we’re going to pop off into a civil war-and I want to be ready, although my wife does not want me to be a soldier again.

Anyway, I’m biting at the Tucker bait because I think it’s funny and judging by the amount of people who come here to see what an asshole he is, it’s the sensible thing to write about. I need to give the people what they want.

So, how many of us remember “Ol’ Blood And Guts”?

No, not Patton.

A more current warmongerer is who I had in mind.

Hm. I don’t seem to have any stuff about Colonel Ralph Peters on this blog. That means I haven’t heard from him in over six years. He’s one of Fox News’ “analysts” and go-to guys on all things war, even though the good colonel has never been to one. Ralph’s a cantankerous fella, more old man than old soldier. You can reasonably assume that his appearances and writing will be over the top, and therefore hilarious. Here’s a few of his greatest hits. Kill, kill, kill for peace, hang the traitors by their thumbs and take the booty because it’s the white man’s burden to civilize the world.

Did I mention that Ralph is old? Ralph is so old, he’s a Republican who remembers that the Soviet Union Russia is not our friend. And don’t you forget it, sonny, or you’ll get a tongue lashing.

That’s the mistake that Tucker Carlson made, who is young and does not remember fallout shelters and desk drills and being an ass hair from mutually assured nuclear annihilation. Now look-I’m not saying that historical enemies cannot be our friends. But if you think about it, you generally have to waste them to get them to be nice, a la Germany, Japan and even Vietnam in the long run. We never broke Russia to the point where it pledged to be good after we crushed it. And we did the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thing with them already. When our common aims were achieved, which was ridding the world of the Nazis, we went on hating them and every godless thing they stood for.

Now it could be argued that we are at that place again, this time against ISIS. But really, no one gives a jolly fuck about ISIS but us, partially because we keep picking at a scab called 9/11. That’s the story for the rubes in the United States, anyway. What we’ve actually been up to is trying to control the globe, cynically using our collective fear of terror (and make no mistake, the “terrorists” are today’s Red Menace) as a pretext to gobble up more power. We never stopped trying to hem Russia in while they spiraled into chaos in the 80s. Since then we’ve grown NATO, made buddy-buddy with breakaway soviets, and are moving antiballistic missiles closer and closer to the Russian border. I really think we are still trying to game out getting away with an unanswered nuclear first strike.

Then Vladimir Putin came along. An ex-KGB creep turned technocrat, he embraced capitalism, Christianity, and politically motivated murder while using Russia’s formidable oil wealth to mount a defense of itself. He has crushed rebellions and annexed land as he expands his power. And if you are an enemy of America, he wants to know you.

We are NOT angels, but Vladimir Putin is probably not a good person and not to be trusted whatsoever. We are at cross purposes with him in Syria. He’s pummeling the resistance to Bashar-Al Assad ruthlessly, and setting ISIS back on its heels a little in the process. We’ve had less luck in this area because we are futilely trying to arm the small resistance that has both ISIS and Assad as its nemeses. We’re trying to thread a needle here-because any further aggression against Assad is probably not going to sit well with Putin. We’re already in something approaching a proxy war with him already, and there seems to be no appetite here for a more direct one that could send this whole world to hell.

Anyway, it looks like Putin’s recent skulduggery took the form of trying to curry favor with an entire American political party, particularly one that would work with and protect one President Donald J. Trump and associates in order to advance Russian interests. After the country suffered six months of smoke inhalation, we’ve finally found some still glowing embers of the conflagration that we’re calling collusion. And it’s not going to go away. The American political system has never been tested in this way before-this is “new snow”, as I saw it put once. It’s so new, there might not be laws against it, I fear. But surely there is something odious and unethical at the very least about letting a rival nation ratfuck an American election. Our elections stink of illegal and unethical behavior as it is with caging and allegations of machine hacking. But the reachout to Russia must qualify as something in the “misdemeanor” part of the impeachment clauses, if Herr Trump is indeed red-handed. And that’s just the president-this dragnet could ensnare high ranking Republicans outside of Trump’s inner circle.

But you didn’t come here to listen to me tell you shit you already know. You want the good shit, where your suspicions that Tucker Carlson is an asshole can be confirmed. I don’t know what his producers were thinking when they put Peters, a temperamental cold warrior, on Tucker’s show to discuss how better we can work with Russia because they are achieving one of our foreign policy goals (while undermining another, because not only is Tucker an asshole, he’s a damn fool as well). Here’s the exchange:

You can read a partial transcript here, if you have no patience for how wrongly both of these people see the world before the sparks fly. But basically, Col. Peters said that Carlson was like Charles Lindbergh in 1938 who said he had no issues with Hitler because he hasn’t attacked the United States.

Boom, Ol’ Blood And Guts, boom.

So, is Putin Hitler? I don’t know really know enough about him. But the general rule is Hitler, and only Hitler, is Hitler. Peters is no stranger to hyperbolic thinking, but that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong in being worried about their expansion. The potential is certainly there. Peters is upset that the Russian military bombs indiscriminately. As if we have never done that. He props up vicious dictators like the Assad family. We do that shit all the time. So really, is Russia any more terroristic than we are? Not really. We are two sides of the same coin. But both of us are trying to divvy up the world, and Putin wants a few pieces and Tucker’s like, have at it, Russkies. And we don’t know how far they will go, and that’s why I’ll go with Peters’ assessment before I go trying to shake hands with the country who will try to run the board if we don’t. Personally, I wish we could stop playing Risk but bowing out of the imperial struggle does not guarantee that the other player wants to stop. And that’s where Carlson fucks up, failing to understand that we are two empires in competition and it’s not worth extending Russian reach across the globe in order to advance a narrow, misdirected foreign policy objective partly because we can Never Forget.

Sticker Shock

I do a lot of news reading. And I have watched with sadness and more than a bit of anger when I see nontraditional “beliefs” get pummeled by obnoxious flouting of the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state, a principle that endures despite today’s renaissance of fascistic Christian supremacy.

Surely most of you are familiar with the proliferation of the “In God We Trust” motto upon police cars.

You look at this stuff happening somewhere remote, and you say to yourself, “it can’t happen here”.

Then it does.

Sinclair Lewis saw it in his day, and I’m here to tell you it can still happen here. And there. And there too.

Yesterday, the separation of church and state became blurred in my current hometown. My police department is now operating with the authority of God.

Look, I know how that sounds, that I’m getting a little hyperventilated about an issue that is unlikely to affect the rights of nonbelievers. But I’m afraid that I can’t be sure that vesting religious authority in those who administer the law will not be tempted to use their authority to be prejudicial to those of us who advertise that we are not religious.

We’re a defiant folk, those of us who do not have a religion. We are past tired of being marginalized.

Of all the injustices that have been visited upon people in this country, on balance the complaints that atheists (and perhaps practitioners of non-Abrahamic religion) have seem to be a bit petty and privileged in and of themselves. But I can only fight the battles I know best. I read H. Rap Brown’s autobiography recently and it was literary fire for me-but I’m just a white atheist. I’d gladly join far worse oppressed people in their fight for justice, but really I can only speak for my own marginalization. I’m amenable to being recruited for more trenchant issues.

It could surely be argued that I need not speak out against my marginalization, because presumably I have a choice in the matter. I can choose to not be a believer, it is alleged. It’s nothing more than an intellectual conceit. I should be silent about it.

I disagree. Those of us who are not moved by a religious belief have no choice but to conclude that there is nothing moving this universe in any direction that would suggest that “someone” is doing it. Should evidence arise that we are wrong, I assure you we would believe. It’s not the same by a long shot, but it is as indelible as something like color or sexual orientation-we cannot politely say we are who we are or how maligned we have been. Granted, we have not been summarily lynched or anything resembling that (although you can still be killed in other nations for blasphemy and heresy)-but I am saying that it is part of our identity and we have just as much right to coexist as anyone, and the supremacists in our culture ought to know that we are among them.

Anyway, when I saw that this thoughtless decal initiative hit my little hick town in Georgia, I decided I’d had about enough of the marginalization. I went straight to the fount, the mayor who went on record saying that “some will be offended”, and that he didn’t really care. I began to email him at his public account.

Mayor Jones,

I know you won’t change your mind, but you should know that the proposed
police car stickers that proclaim “In God We Trust” is troubling to
those of us who do not believe in the Christian “God”, be they
practitioners of different faith or practitioners of none. You should
choose to be inclusive as a public servant. But you think your faith is
more important than your civic duty, it seems.

Do we have a Christian police force? Did you ask them when you decided
to festoon their cars with religious slogans?

I know stunts like this play well politically in places like Columbia
County but you should probably pay more attention to the overloaded
infrastructure that can’t handle all of the commercial and residential
expansion in Grovetown rather than push people’s buttons on matters of
church and state.

As I said, I might as well talk to a wall from the impression I get of
you but I thought I’d try anyway.

Was I being a smart-aleck? Sure. I knew I wouldn’t make him ask himself if what he was doing was right with reason. But I wanted to be heard loud and clear.

Evidently being mayor isn’t a particularly busy job, because I got a response lickety-split:

In God we trust does not imply any particular God. This statement is broad. Congratulations you are the first to speak negatively about the stickers.

Do you ever wonder how some people keep their jobs? That they’re so stupid it’s a wonder they don’t come to work with mismatched shoes? Well, the mayor is one of those people. You already know from the national stage that stupid people are electable. That said, all grammatical assassination and disturbing punctuation conservation above and below is his.

Anyway, I called him out in the next email for being full of shit.

Thanks for the congratulations. I’m actually quite surprised, given that there is a robust community of nontraditional believers in the county who tipped me off to the story.

Come now, Mr. Jones. Do you honestly believe that anyone thinks of another monotheistic god when they see “In God We Trust”? Additionally, in your predictable response you fail to take into account nonbelievers who take the separation of church and state rather seriously. What about us? Once again I ask: do we have a religious police force?

You know this is your Christian privilege and you know you’re going to get away with it…unless of course one of your officers doesn’t want to drive an advertisement for religion. Then you might have a problem on your hands.

It has been said that the stupid are always sure of themselves, while the intelligent are often full of doubt. So in the spirit of certainty, Mayor Jones wasted no time firing off his next response, attempting to educate me on a subject that he clearly knows nothing about since he’s the dumbshit putting religious slogans on police cars.

I suggest you study up on Separation of Church and State. That statement in of itself does not impose religion upon anyone. Had I used the name of Jesus you may have a legitimate complaint. If you feel that strongly about it…stop using US currency.

There’s a lot to unpack in this response, and I lost my cool a little in attempting. I replied:

The mention of God qualifies as a religious belief. You are being extremely slippery by pretending it’s not about one god or another. The school system uses the same lame excuse when they tell kids to have “respect for a creator”. As I said, you’re being disingenuous by asserting it’s not about one god or another. Last I checked, lying was a sin.

You do not have to come to my house and baptize me to violate church and state separation. Jurisprudence has interpreted the separation of church and state to be more broad than just the imposition of a state religion. When the government gets in the religion business in any way (and once again, belief in a god, any god spells R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N), that’s constitutionally objectionable.

Thanks for making me laugh with the currency jab. Lets me know that I’m not only dealing with a lying bigot, but a jerk as well.

Some of you may think that I took a wrong turn when I called him a name. But he was literally being a jerk. Don’t use the money? Is that all you have, Mayor? Jesus Christ.

Anyway, I pushed the mayor’s angry button. He decided to get all tough with me. I’m a veteran of many an online flame war, and if there’s one thing you can expect it’s that conservatives will resort to threatening when they are losing an argument.

Come to a meeting and say that personally coward

What does that look like to you? It sure sounded to me like a threat or at the very least a personal challenge. So I asked him what he was doing. I am certainly not going to go to a town hall full of his slackjawed, heehawing supporters just to call him a name. Nope, this is my turf. Ron’s the name, writing’s my game.

Are you threatening me? I’ll be sure to forward that to the media.

Which I did. I thought it was totally inappropriate for an elected public figure to be doing the “say it to my face” routine, regardless of what I had called him, which was not only mild as names go, but accurate. Anyway, he decided at this point that he was a victim. That’s always amusing coming from conservatives, because they are so fond of being derisive toward people who actually are victims.

No it’s easy for folks like you to hide on social media and complain about everything as well as call folks names. A threat is constituted by one making statements to do bodily harm. My words no where indicate such. Do not email me again or I will seek a warrant for your arrest.

I did not know that public government email was social media, did you? But whatever, the mayor took his ball and went home, abusing his power along the way by threatening to sic his goon squad on the guy that said mean wittle things to him.

You’re quite a specimen, mayor.

So like I said, I went to the media, asking them if they wanted to let people know what a peach the Grovetown mayor is, and I received a reply. It was the reporter who initially covered the sticker story. She wanted to talk to people who opposed the slogans. I gathered a few atheists in my area, but none of us wanted to put our faces out there because Christians have a tendency to be rather un-Christian when you try to object to them barfing their beliefs into the public arena. Additionally, some of us held government jobs and were worried about reprisal.

The reporter wanted to do it the day following her breaking of the story, which gave me only a few hours to prepare. I spent several anxious hours in bed that night wondering what to say and whether or not I could say it right. Eventually I fell asleep and it was game time when my eyes opened.

Boy, was I nervous. But I usually can pull myself together for things like this when they finally happen. So we interviewed for about a half hour and I felt relieved that we all had struck a blow for our side. Everyone involved did great.

However, the piece(which is embedded in my link above) fell super short of my expectations. My conversations with the mayor were known to the reporter but I recited the highlights anyway, because I felt that the larger story was about abuse of power. I don’t think I’d have agreed to interview had the mayor not been a raging dick. None of his unfortunate, embarrassing behavior was touched on. None. We got three or four soundbites about our objections to the stickers. I don’t think anyone learned anything about atheists or separation.

In the end, what could I have expected? Separation of church and state is a complex issue that would require a network special to even scratch the surface of its importance. How we feel is irreducible and it’s impossible to do justice to the subject in 45 seconds. And I guess the local news is reticent to lose viewers over the truth about our bulletheaded, bible thumping leaders. Gary Jones knows that most of his dumb-ass constituents can be rallied by appealing to their feelings of Christian supremacy. It’s not dissimilar to, and this may sound like a stretch, shit that people like Saddam Hussein pulled. When his popularity waned after getting routed in the first Gulf war, he used religion to keep people loyal, going so far as to change the national flag to say “God Is Great”.

Demagoguery is so much easier than actually doing something, especially when your voters are brainwashed. And that’s what this is about. Cut from my interview was me quoting Jeremy Bentham about good governance and behavior. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said that the ideal aim in society was to produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.

And by that metric, Gary Jones is a fucking political failure.

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