On Trying to Write

I have been asked to write an article for one of my favorite blogs. Actually, I should say that I’ve been asked to submit an article for consideration. They are looking for people to write about parenting as skeptics/rationalists/secularists kind of people.

I’ve written about the parenting challenges I’ve faced before both here and on thee JREFF blog. I could easily draw from those to write the new article, but that would be cheating, at least to me it would. Also, it would be a missed opportunity to reassess the results and lessons learned as a parent since the last time I wrote about it.

The reason I’m writing about writing about parenting is that I having trouble actually writing about it. To get past this minor writer’s block, sometimes you just have to write about something, anything, to get the words flowing. That is what this is. A writing exercise.

I think it’s working. Oh! I’ve got an idea! Gotta go!

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life

The title of this blog post, is a quote from that great sage of the 23rd century, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. He was facing the possibility of death and was trying to explain why it is important to understand that our actions and reactions in these situations can be so critical to, not only our survival, but to who we are as a person.

Of course, Kirk cheated death in that scene, as he always did. The rest of us won’t be so lucky. But it is not how we deal with facing our own death that I want to talk about, but how we deal with the death of others and, more specifically, how we help others deal with the death of someone they know.

A co-worker’s father passed away this week. He had traveled from Omaha to Georgia, driving all day and night, to get to the hospital where his father, who was dying of brain cancer, lay. He got there in time to spend some hours with his father listening to music that they both loved.

My co-worker and I aren’t particularly close. In fact, except for both being big Apple Mac fans and Army vets, we are about as different as you can get. He is an Obama blaming conservative, I’m a liberal. He’s outgoing and extroverted, I’m quiet and watchful. He is a very devout Christian (as are the majority of my co-workers, but that is a story for a different blog post) and I am an atheist.

This seems to have caused some tension between us, although he’s never said anything about my being an atheist outside of some very vague “well, I know you don’t go for that kind of thing” when talking about church or gospel music.

When I heard that his father passed away, it truly pained me. I remember how devastated I was when my own father died over 20 years ago. He had heart disease and we all knew that he had little time left, but expecting the end didn’t make it at all easier to deal with.

So I knew what my co-worker must be feeling and I felt the need to reach out to him and express my sympathy and let him know that I empathized with him.

The problem was not so much what to say, but how to say it. I refused to use say things like, “he’s in a better place” or “he’s at peace now”. I believe that when you die your brain ceases to function and you thereby stop experiencing anything like a feeling of peace or anything at all, actually. I needed to find a way to provide some modicum of solace without allusions to anything beyond this life here on earth. So instead of focusing on his father, I realized that I must focus on my co-worker and what he must be feeling. After all, death is really an affliction of the living, not the dead.

So I sent him an email from my personal email account to his personal account. Here is what I said:

I want to express my sincere condolences on the passing of your father.

I know how difficult it is, even when the passing is expected and, perhaps, even a blessing. No matter how much consolation we try to find in knowing that our loved one is no longer suffering and is at peace, there will forever be a hole in your heart that never fully goes away. That you must experience this is what pains me, and though my words can’t minimize the pain, I hope they might bring a bit of comfort.

I want you to know that my thoughts are with you and your family. Please offer everyone there my condolences.

Yours,

James

I think the most important thing we can try to do to help someone deal with the loss of a loved one is to focus on them and what they are feeling, not on the loved one lost.

They say that religion gives people comfort in times of loss, but I think it only prolongs the grieving process by taking the focus off what they need and how they feel and focusing on the deceased who no longer needs or feels anything.

As an atheist, I believe that we must focus on this life, cherish every moment of it, and deal with it head on. This is how we can make the most out of life. After all, life is for the living.

The Next Steps

I haven’t written much here in a long time; just the occasional post.  There are many reasons why, some personal (new marriage, raising three teenagers, work), some creative (not so much writer’s block as writer’s ennui). 

The main thing I’m struggling with now is trying to decide what direction I want to go with my writing.  For most of most of the past three years or so, I’ve focused on mostly skeptical and atheist based topics.  At time as went gone on, I found myself writing more about topics on humanism, especially my support of feminism.

I feel that at this point, as far as this blog is concerned, I want to keep the focus on issues of humanist and social justice, with a concentration on how skepticism can positively inform these issues.

Still, there is another writing endeavor that I’m keen to begin focusing on: science writing. 

I’ve had a passion for science for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I did chemistry experiments.  As a teen I spent countless nights, often in the freezing cold of New England winters, snow up to my calves, pointing my telescope at the heavens and falling in love with the beauty of the cosmos.  My eighth grade science project was on the Special Theory of Relativity.  A college paper for Writing 101 was on a theory for time travel. 

As I got older, other things crowded out the science and I focused on a search for the meaning of life, flirting with Christianity (I was raised a devout Catholic), Islam, some Eastern mysticism, Edgar Cacye, and a Shirley McLane-ish spiritualism.

Finally, about four years ago I discovered skepticism (Thanks Surly Amy, Rebecca Watson, and Jen McCreight!).  From there, I threw off the chains of superstation and embraced being an atheist.  I began blogging about skepticism and atheism and I went to Skepticon and The American Atheists Convention.

My new found skepticism led to being reacquainted with my passion for science.  I began writing some article focused more on the scientific aspects of skepticism. Some were published on the Swift Blog at the JREF site at randi.org.   Another was published in Skeptical Inquire Magazine.  I really enjoyed the in-depth research that went along with preparing my articles.  I was (and still am) a stickler for good research and properly attributing sources.

This has lead me to consider working to become a serious science writer.  I feel that I have a writing style that can help explain complicated issues in a way that anyone can understand.  I want to pass on my passion and love of science, and to impress on people the vital importance science plays in our modern lives.

So, I will try to begin to write on the social justice and humanism issues that I feel passionately about, along with some skeptical topics and the occasional ripping of new assholes for religions and those who use it stupidly and dangerously, here on this blog.  My science writing I’ll try shopping around to blogs that specialize is science journalism.

Wish me luck!

Writing In a Post MacBook Way

My Late 2009 MacBook bit the dust last week.  It had been having problems with charging for quite a while and I even had the MagSafe board replaced back in March, which worked for a little while.  But, sadly, it went back to not having any LED light on when connected to the charger and taking over 24 hours to charge from 20% to 100%.  My solution was to keep it plugged in at all times, which worked well, until it somehow got unplugged.  Now it wont power on at all, even with the charger connected. 

I’ve invested a fair amount of $$$ into outstanding software like Scrivener, Mars Edit, BibDesk, and MacJournal.  These three (well two, actually, which I’ll explain in a minute) were the core of my writing tools. 

Scrivener makes it insanely east to create entire writing projects.  It gives you everything you need to organize, research, and compile a writing project, for anything from research papers and short stories, to complete Novels.   I used it for articles that I periodically submitted the JREF blog, as it allowed me to easily keep track of my various research results and integrated them into my articles (since the JREF deals with skeptical topics which required copious and well cited research this was a huge plus).  I also used it for longer and more rigorously researched articles like one that was published in Skeptical Inquire magazine earlier this year.

BibDesk is an essential and excellent bibliography manager.  It is exclusively a Mac application.  It does it’s job beautifully.  It even has an excellent search engine that goes out and finds not just articles based on your search, but will add them and format them in several standard different professional citation styles.

MacJournal was my first blogging software.  It worked beautifully with my WordPress blog (the one you are reading now).  I ended up replacing MacJournal with Mars Edit, mainly because MacJournal did not have an easy way to create Block Quotes.  Also, Mars Edit handles media attachments a bit better.

Now, Mac-less, I have only my Windows 7 laptop, which I purchased mainly for my job as a computer field engineer (my company pays me a stipend in each paycheck to use our own computers), I have had to start using this for pretty much all my computing activities, in addition to my work related stuff.

Fortunately, Scrivener just recently (in the past year, I believe) began offering a version for Windows.  I just downloaded the trial version and will purchase the full version.  From what I’ve seen and read so far, it has all the feature of the Mac version.

I’m currently writing this using Windows Live Writer, which works well enough, and looks pretty, but doesn’t keep track of older posts, at least not in any useful way.  It does, however, have an easy to use Block Quote feature. It is on a par with MacJournal and Mars Edit.

Alas, there are no really good replacements for any of the other software tools I used on my Mac.    I’ve tried bibliography managers for Windows, but none of them offer the comprehensiveness and rich feature set of BibDesk.  The free versions pretty much suck.  There are good ones that I could pay for, but I can’t really afford any of those.  BibDesk is free.

So, I have most of the types of tools I used to have on my Mac on my Windows box, it’s just that except for Scrivener , they just aren’t as a easy to use and thus I spend more time and effort to accomplish the same tasks on Windows compared to my Mac.  This just makes my job of writing that much harder.

I love Mac.  Their apps are better and the companies that produce them seem to really try hard to make the writer’s job as easy as possible.  Plus, the all adhered closely adhered to the Mac look and feel.  They just looked and worked better.  Period.

At least on my iPad, I have my trusty old MacJournal, so there is that. 

I Will Weep For Thee

” I will weep for thee;

For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like

Another fall of man.”

— Henry V, Act II, Scene II.

Actually, I weep for my MacBook. It won’t power on. I suspect that it has a bad battery. I’ll have to try to have it fixed as soon as I can afford to.

For now, my iPad will suffice. Then there is always my (gasp!) Windows laptop, which I normally only use for work.

Why did I quote Shakespeare? One, I am sad that my trusty MacBook is possibly dead, and it is revolting against me by refusing to power on when I push the power button. Two, it is one of my favorite quotes from my favorite scene from Henry V. Finally, it’s William Fucking Shakespeare! Do I really need another reason?

Taking Sides

There has been a battle going on in the atheists/skeptical movement over the past year or so.  It is a battle about sexism.  I won’t go into the details because there are too many incidents and opinions to mention here.  For an introduction, if you are not familiar with what’s been happening, see PZ Myers’ blog post.  Make sure you visit the links there, and the links in those links.  

PZ feels that it is time to take sides, and I agree.

Sexism is wrong.  Rape is horrible and wrong.  Anyone who supports these things whether openly, through making excuses for them, or just pretending they don’t matter is wrong; period.  These people try to explain away sexism, to rationalize it, to excuse it in any way they can.  They make threats of violence, rape, and even death agains the women who come forward with their experiences of being victimized.  

These are the same people who claim to be rational.  They deride the religious for being irrational in their beliefs; for supporting and rationalizing their beliefs with senseless excuses and rationalizations while they do exactly the same thing in their defense and denial of sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. 

These people are wrong and no amount of rationalization can change that.  They are immoral, plain and simple.

I take the side of every woman, all women, who live with sexism every day.  I take the side of inclusion.  I take the side of equality and fairness.  I take the side of humanism.  I take the side of what is right and moral; the idea that every woman has the right to not just be safe, but feel safe, at all atheist and skeptical conferences and events, to never have to live with threats of violence, rape, and death just for speaking out about their experiences with sexism.

These are painful times we are going through, but if we want to advance the causes of atheist and skepticism, we must clean our own house or we can never claim the high moral ground against the religious, who use their gods to claim the same.

We must demand of our conference organizers that they not invite speakers who are known to engage in sexist and predatory behavior.  We must demand that they bar these people from all conferences and events.   If they refuse, then we must refuse to attend their events and to contribute to their organizations.  We must insist that the CFI, the JREF, and all other atheist and skeptical organizations refuse these sexists and predators venues for their speeches and writings.  We must insist that they remove these people from their organizations.  If they don’t, then they don’t get our support or our money.  

As a society of atheists and skeptics, we must shun those sexist predators and all who support them.  This is not a war, but a boycott.  We must boycott their speeches, their appearances, their books, and their podcasts.     We must make them outcasts and pariahs.   

It is time to take sides.  If you truly care about your community and what it should stand for, then take the side of what is right and moral, or be left in the dustbin of history.

MacJournal For iPad

I’m trying out MacJournal for the iPad for my blogging. I have MacJournal on my MacBook, but haven’t used it for blogging for a while since I’ve found that I like Mars Edit better. Unfortunately, they don’t make Mars Edit for iPad, so I’m trying out MacJournal.

Does anyone out there know of any good blogging software for the iPad?

Testing Live Writer

Unfortunately, for this Mac guy, I am sometimes forced to use Windoze.  Windows Live Writer comes bundled with Windows 7, so I’m trying it out.

This is bold.

This is italic.

This is underline.

This is strike through.

This is block quotes.

Yea!  It works decently enough.  Hopefully I won’t have to use it much.  I still love my Mac for most anything.

An Atheist Monument Being Unveiled Next to The Ten Commandments is Nothing to Celebrate

An article in the Washington Post reports on the new monument that has been installed next to one of the Ten Commandments outside a Florida courthouse.

Atheists had sued to remove the Ten Commandments monument because it violates the the Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.  An agreement was reached that, instead of removing the monument, atheists would be able to erect their own monument on public property next to it.

The monument that the atheists erected contain quotes by various founding fathers that are much more apt for a courthouse than the Ten Commandments, almost half of which apply to how God should be worshiped and have no bearing on U.S. Law.  

While I support displaying monuments to our founding fathers and quotes from them that support actual U.S. legal principles, I have serious reservations about how this particular case played out.

Allowing a secular monument on public land, of course, does not violate the Establishment clause, but doing so in this case inextricably links the secular monument with that of the Ten Commandments.  In essence, it gives validity to the idea that it is OK to allow a religious monument on public property.   By agreeing to erect a secular monument next to a religious one, these atheists have legitimized the display of religious symbols on public property.

We have secular monument aplenty across our land.  The Jefferson and Lincoln monuments come to mind.  This is how it should be.  Our legal system is founded upon the U.S. Constitution, a document that never once mentions God, and even explicitly forbids the government showing preference for any religion.  

We don’t need the condecending permission of religious minded judges or politicians to allow us to erect a monument to those who founded our country.   By accepting this settlement, atheists essentially allowed the religious crowd, who erected their monument in violation of the laws of this land, to give them something that was theirs by default.  

This is not a win for atheists.  By agreeing to allow an obviously illegal monument to stand, they have legitimized those who seek to push their religious agenda into our government at every level, and thereby made it a win for the enemies of secularism.