Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the road to find out - Thanks Cat Stevens

Music was never a large part of my life, just was not a big thing in my home while I was growing up, so I’m learning more about it as I age.  Over the past few years, I have become a huge fan of Yusuf Islam (nee Cat Stevens, nee Steven Demetre Georgiou).  I first saw Yusuf at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the Washington DC mall in the fall of 2010.  He performed the song Peace Train, at the same time Ozzy Osborne was performing Crazy Train.  Love the song Peace Train and truly with the religion Yusuf is part of would take it to heart.

Since that time, I have posted the link to my Facebook page when it appeared we were going to bomb Syria.  I’ve also played it in my classroom before classes, asking my kids to listen to the lyrics.  The previous days of meanness disappeared... at least for a while.  I still listen to the Peace Train multiple times a week.

While grading some papers, another Cat Stevens song came up on Pandora, “On the road to find out,” I’ve heard it many times, but this time, I listened to the lyrics in earnest, and wow!  So incredible!  It is the story of a man setting out on a journey, not physically, but a journey about life and the purpose of his existence.  I find the last stanza of the song fascinating.

Yes, the answer lies within
So why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil's sin
Pick up, pick up a good book now

This is obviously an allusion to the Bible or the Quran, but listening to the song a few more times today, I see it as picking up a “good book” meaning any book that will improve yourself, that will answer questions.  The good book could be the religious texts, but why not “A Pale Blue Dot” by Carl Sagan, why not “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain?  Many books have made a great impact on my life, so forever in my mind, that is what I will think of when I hear “On the road to find out”

While I am not a huge fan of religion, I can still appreciate the art and music of the religious.  And Yusuf/Cat/Steven, you are awesome!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Uncomfortable feelings

Feeling uncomfortable as an atheist, it was a feeling I never really expected and am pretty sure that I don’t like!  And it is happening as part of a job that I love dearly.  I have a tremendous passion for mathematics and all of its inherent qualities.  Among those qualities are critical thinking, evidence, abstract thought, and actually getting answer that is right or wrong even though you don’t have to follow the shortest path to get there.
I am an avid teacher, not only of math, but of life.  At the time I started teaching, my journey into atheism was still in its infancy.  I had read god is not great by the amazing Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens was a true firebrand atheist and his style appealed to me.  I also read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a much different style than Hitchens, but never holding anything back.  Since that time I am still an atheist and outspoken about it, but I am also a humanist and always have been.  Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, made the Don’t be a Dick speech and it is a constant reminder of how we can learn and teach.
Now, as a teacher in the United States and a true believer of the constitution, I looked to make a separation of my personal views and not discuss them with students during the school day or a school function. As much as I would like to have a captive audience and be a firebrand atheist, my values and ethics stop me from doing this.  I have read about Hemant Mehta’s approach to this when he is asked by a student about his views, his reply?  “Haven’t done your homework have you?”  I am not Hemant, we have totally different personalities and I don’t believe I could just deflect the question like that, it is not me.  I certainly would never initiate the conversation.  I would say that this has been more or less successful.
I have now moved on to another high school, for a multitude of reasons, being the Varsity Lacrosse Coach the primary one.  I had no idea how different the new school would be to my original.  IThe demographics of the schools match up fairly well so I wasn’t expecting anything different.  However, I have seen something different, the population of the school is more religious than I had ever anticipated and as a result, I feel uncomfortable at times.  I truly should have known something was up when my team huddled up to pray before several games, hint, it didn't work.  I would just turn around and get my game face on  cry a little bit on the inside.  It is so strange.  I am doing nothing different, but am aware of looks or side conversations, but nothing substantial. 
Let me start by saying, I’m so impressed with the parental involvement at my school, it is incredible to see so much.  I never would have dreamed it possible, but it is awesome.  I am the freshman class sponsor at the school, and as such, I have responsibilities for the class that meet outside of the school environs.  My car is labeled with my personal beliefs, humanism, atheism, etc.  The parents see this, the students say this, they do not say anything, there is nothing malicious, but there are times I see a look or glance.  Could I be paranoid?  Possibly, but I don’t think so.
Will I change?  Should I say something? (I’m thinking not).  In the meantime, I’ll continue to be the best teacher I can be, teaching my students, my children to be cool to each other, if they can’t learn the math, perhaps they can learn to be decent to each other.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

22 Years...and loving it!

My life changed on January 10, 1990.  I was working at Université Laval doing some registration.  One of the girls I met asked me about a good place to go at night, I suggested the Bar L’Etrange on rue St. Jean in Quebec City.  Like all great bars there was great music, plenty of hockey on television, and most importantly, really cheap beer.  Later that night, I had forgotten totally I had told the girl about the bar and just went to watch some hockey and meet up with some friends.  After an hour or so, in walked the girl I had talked to and with her, the most incredible lady I had ever seen, and such a great smile!  Wow!  I still remember that first time I saw her.  Karen, the girl I talked to, introduced me to Erin, the girl with the amazing smile!  We talked, watched some hockey, drank some beer, apparently I was a little drunk because I said something like “I hate Americans”, in retrospect, not my best moment, but at least it showed my honesty.  As the evening came to a close, I asked her to come to a concert with me the following night.  She agreed, and told me her room number and building (dorm) where she was staying so we could make arrangements.  I think that she believed there is no way this drunk will remember that information, but I showed her.

Erin in the tunnels at the Université Laval

What a doofy looking guy!

The next night, I met Erin at my place, it was safe, I was living with four women and one guy at the time.  We went to the concert; the band was from Toronto, called the Shuffle Demons.  I highly suggest that you check them out on the youtubes.  Being with Erin that night was special, the crowd, a few old Quebecois, was appalled when the band asked the audience to stand for the national anthem and they played this.  I laughed, Erin chuckled, it was a wonderful time.

Over the next couple of weeks, our friendship grew, her smile never failing to make me happy.  Erin met my friends, Lorna, Judy, Lisa, and the rest of my housemates.  I found out later from Erin that these wonderful people said some very nice things about me and I thank them very much.  Fast forward to Valentine’s day, we went to another pub, there are a lot of those in Quebec City, the song “California Girls” by the Beach Boys came on, and that is when I first kissed her.  Wow!  She had me.  I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in March that I asked her to marry me.   I believe her answer was “yes, but not yet”. 

Being an awesome lady, we she called her parents on April 1st, yes, April fool’s day to break the news to them.  I believe her mom’s first words were “is he Christian?” Ahh, if only we had known the future.  Erin’s friends and sister had given their approval, perhaps I am an okay guy.  In late April/early May, I was requested to write an essay to Erin’s father on why I want to be his son-in-law.  I was sick with the flu, so with a combination of Neo-Citran (Theraflu for the Yanks), vodka, and Contact-C, I wrote a heartfelt, stupor filled letter.  Whatever I wrote, it must have been good enough.
Summer of 1990 - Engagement photo

Fast-forward to October 12, 1991, autumn is a great time of year.  Erin and I grew more and more in love despite the many miles between us, her in Wooster, Ohio, and me in Toronto, Ontario.  You know, I really don’t recall much about the wedding, what I do remember is that smile never changed.  It was as intoxicating as the first day I met her.  I recently asked Erin about memories of our wedding day, she said she remembers one thing clearly, a cousin of hers throwing birdseed landing down her cleavage as we were leaving the ceremony.  Makes me laugh every time she retells this
Great smile - Toronto (1995)?

Now, 22 years of marriage, one incredible daughter, four exchange students (son and daughters), multiple pets, Erin still makes me happy.  Her smile is still incredible.  She is simply the most incredible person I know.  She is smart, oh so smart, so incredibly smart, it is almost scary.  She is kind; she will go out of her way to help anyone.  She is the “mom”, there for any of the kids, ours or borrowed.  She is the example of how people should act around the world.  She is a hard worker, while she says she is not, there is no one else that I would rather have working in my business.  She is passionate; about everything she does, her dancing, her puzzles, her family, everything.  She is a role model; Erin makes people around her better, not by teaching, but by living life. 
Sharing with Madster in Halifax

Erin is my wife!  I love her more than anything else in this world!  Her smile is still contagious.  She has made me a much better person than I ever would have been without her.  My only wish is to give her more.  Perhaps one day.

Wow! From our last date a couple of weeks ago.  What a smile!

I love you Erin.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Healthy Living 4.0

Food, why is it that I cannot pass you up?  A stale croissant, cold pizza, PB&J (times 3), anything that is edible, is vulnerable to me eating it.  Binge eating is a scourge that I cannot avoid. Binge eating is a disorder that professionals, it seems, are not very "expert" on; so I will continue without their help.  This is freaking crazy, I am now on Healthy Living 4.0, I had even forgot that there was a healthy living 3.0, that didn’t even get started.  The intention was there, but the follow through was not. 

With luck, perseverance, and the support of family and friends, let us hope that this time around will be successful.  Unfortunately the goal is much further away this time than other attempts.

From a fitness standpoint, I have suggested to my lacrosse team that they start weight training twice a week (Tuesdays/Thursdays), and then do cardio on their off days.  Feeling like an ass after seeing them work out the first day, I thought to myself I should do something too.  So I do 30 minutes of cardio, then the resistance training.   I’ve noticed that my players do not lift with me as they do with their friends, and that is fine.  But I have noticed that they are watching me, so when I am lifting, there is no dogging it (can’t let coach be seen as not working hard).  So this is truly a positive.

I’ve gone through this healthy eating shit before and have tried everything.  Yes, you skinny people are all experts, I understand that.  So, just doing a good breakfast, some snacks during the day, and eating dinner before 6 pm.  Have no idea what will happen when I’m encountered with temptation.  Do not want to be a dick and leave a party, or friends, or dinner, or whatever, yet it is the only way that I don’t binge (assuming I don’t stop for 5000 calories at a fast food place on the way home).

I’m asking all for support, tell me if you see me eating if I really need something because I’m hungry or just filling my face for no reason


Sunday, September 22, 2013

No True Scotsman

I love posting on Facebook, particularly, the hypocrisy of religion.  Recently, there was a terrible incident where a priest was caught with his pants down with a 15 year old boy.  Yes, this is a big deal and happens all time.  Being a mathematical/logical sort of person, a friend gave me the opportunity to point out the No True Scotsman Fallacy.  Usually, not many people comment, but this time one of my hard core Christian friends commented on this

“…these guys give us genuine believers a bad name”

As I told my friend, I’m sure they believe just as much as you do.  What it comes down to is that the belief is flawed.  Just because they do not believe in the same way you do, does not mean they do not believe.  I am also sure that some believers who are the same as my friend, may not find this incident as egregious (I hope I’m wrong).

What it comes down to, is we have to be cool to each other.  Treat each other with dignity and respect.  I will continue to respect you the person, but I will attack your beliefs, not you.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

My First Atheist/Humanist Conference

I had wanted to attend an atheist conference for a while, but most were outside of my price range, distance range, and approval from my family.  This time all three conditions aligned and with the approval of my incredible my wife I was off to the Pennsylvania Atheist/Humanist Conference in Philadelphia, PA.  The event was coordinated by the PAnonbeleivers, Brian Fields, Margaret Downey, and a host of volunteers.  Thank you to all.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I checked in, then went up to the bar, I then met the first of many atheists that I have come to know and love, Dan Fincke, of the blog Camels with Hammers.  Dan is an awesome man and one of the friendliest people I have ever met.  By chance, he was drinking with a long time blog “idol” J.T. Eberhard of the What Would J.T. Do blog.  There he was sitting in his teemo hat, I was laughing to myself.  How could this get any better?  The first 30 minutes of the conference and I have met two guys whose writing and opinions I respect greatly. 

The first night of the conference had a Friggatriskadaekaphobia party, where superstitions would be cast out forever (wishful thinking).  Walking under a ladder to join the party in the room, you were greeted with tables referencing different superstitions.  Around the room, histories of different superstitions, why is a horseshoe lucky?  Why is it good luck to kiss the Blarney Stone?  And there was a chance to tempt fate, a raffle to smash a fairy (piñata) into dust, smash a mirror for seven years bad luck, throwing your horoscopes in the trash where they belong.  Doctors and nurses were on hand with black cats to cure you of your superstitions.  I recognized so many people and could hardly wait to hear them speak the next day.

Saturday, totally unaware of what to expect, then came the first speaker, James Croft.  Wow!  Just wow!  Who was this Brit?  A humanist who spoke so passionately, if this was the start, it could only get better.  Next, J.T.  speaking about being a firebrand atheist, having a hard time finding the medium between being a firebrand and Phil Plait’s “Don’t be a Dick”.  J.T.s talk was why I became a fan of his blog, despite this, I am still struggling with being a firebrand and not a dick. 

The second part of the morning was even more impressive, David Tamayo, a Hispanic American, and president of Hispanic American Freethinkers, touched me with such a great story of his change to atheism. He talked of HAFREE and the talks they give to the Hispanic youth in the high schools in Virginia; I said to myself, I must get them to speak at my school.  I have not yet contacted David, but I will be doing so shortly.

Little that I knew that a speaker would have my eyeballs sweating (those are not tears), as Tracy Lockwood shared her story of growing up in a Christian cult in upstate New York.  Oh the things people will do in the name of religion.  So sad, but it is these type of stories that must be told for change to happen.

Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, spoke about the importance of being an atheist, not agnostic, not humanist, not any combination of those.  I am an atheist and will say it proudly and loudly.

After Silverman, something interesting happened, I was getting tired and told myself, I’ll just listen to the next speaker for five minutes, if no good, I’ll go take a nap.  For the love of the FSM, none of the speakers sucked!  I was exhausted.  But oh it was so worth it.

The night ended with the comedy of Jamy Ian Swiss, Steven Hill, Dave DeLuca, and a wonderful musical performance by Shelley Segal.

Sunday, came the authors I had been dying to see and meet.  Jerrry DeWitt, author of Hope after Faith, spoke like no one I have ever heard.  I had seen evangelical preachers on television praising the lord, but Jerry, was speaking to atheism.  He had the audience laughing one minute, the next thing you know, you were sitting almost crying.  It is not hard to see how this man could have been such a power influence in the church.

Amanda Kneif, author of The Citizen Lobbyist, spoke to Faith Based Initiatives by the federal and state governments.  You have no idea how much of our tax payer monies are going to churches without any oversight.  Really, it is a disgusting display of how the religious are helping head towards a theocracy.

Overall, my experience was fantastic, met so many wonderful people.  Confirmed my feelings about bloggers, I am glad I’m such a good judge of character.  I can hardly wait to see some of these people again.  It also reignited the fire to join the Beltway Atheists again, and become more of an activist.

Thanks to all at the conference, organizers, speakers, and volunteers.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Girl Scouts kicked out of Church

I have never been a big fan of scouts.  The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) with their disdain for the LGBT community and total shunning of the non-religious, puts them in my eyes as a hate-filled organization.  No, not the boys, but the leaders.  On the contrary, there are the Girls Scouts of America (GSA), who appear to accept the LGBT community and in fact all member of society, regardless of religion (lack of).  My wonderful daughter, the Madster, had some great times with her troops, and I am glad for that.  I still had in my mind that they were still a little to right wing for my tastes, overall, I never saw any animosity towards any part of society.

This brings me to the topic of this discussion, a Catholic church in Arlington, Virgina, just a dog-sled ride across the Potomac River, felt it was necessary to kick the local girl scout troop out of their building.  You can read about it here. The reason? 

In recent years, the Girls Scouts have accepted gay and transgender children into its ranks. They have also provided age appropriate sexual education sometimes in conjunction with Planned Parenthood.
Really?  What are the Catholics afraid of?  Some young girl might use contraception before marriage?  Oh for the love of the flying spaghetti monster.  They are teaching the girls about being safe.  About being responsible? Would we rather have teenage girls running around getting pregnant, getting STDs?  And do not think that Catholic teenage girls are chaste, the Catholic School girls when I was growing up were always great (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).  My virtual blogger friend J.T. Eberhard, sums it up quite nicely.  “Want to know the fastest way to get kicked out of a church of the most loving religion?  By failing to discriminate”

What I would like to see are my religious friends in this area talk to their church leaders and ask them to denounce the message of the Catholic Church.  Usually, I just say it is their wacky religion, but in this case, they are harming children…knowingly.  And I refuse to not say anything about it.