23 March 2012


Tomorrow, Saturday March 24 there will be a rally in Washington D.C. called the Reason Rally. It is largely a gathering of my fellow atheists standing up publically for what they believe. I wish I could be there to stand up and be counted, too. Instead I have to rely on this, my blog.

In spite of all the self-serving crap from the religious right about the “war on Christianity,” those people are getting away with murder. Literally, in some instances. Atheists on the other hand are sometimes fired from their jobs, discriminated against, reviled and ridiculed publically, beaten even, ignored at best – all because of their beliefs.

Yes, we atheists are believers. We believe in reason and science and the golden rule. We believe in the wonders of the universe, the magnificence of the natural world and deeply feel the excitement that comes from the reasoned efforts to understand and make sense of it.

The idea that the world all around us is there because of the actions of some god – however you want to define “god” – is a feeble oversimplification that attempts to come to terms with things that people can’t explain, or simply don’t like or believe. “I don’t understand it, it must be the hand of god.”

How sad is that? Talk about taking all the wonder and majesty and glory and complexity out of it

Progress, all progress whether in the sciences or the humanities or the arts or economics or politics or anything else, comes about when people don’t take things on faith, when they don’t rest on tradition, when they don’t simply fall back on life being at the will or whim of some greater power.

All progress stems from dissatisfaction and curiosity. Let’s see how this thing works. Let’s see how to make it better. I wonder if we can fly? Why are there so many poor people? What can we do to fix that? My back itches, how am I going to reach it to scratch it?

The “power” of prayer, of faith, adherence to tradition just gets in the way.

Speaking for myself, as there is no way that any sane person could ever hope to represent the diverse views of us atheists, while I have nothing against religious people (unless they are trying to cram their religion down my or my country’s throat) and even count some among my friends and family, I loathe religion. All religion, any religion, take your pick.

Most atheists are afraid to say something like that because it might get them in trouble. Just coming out as an atheist can cause problems. I’ve been yelled at by seemingly nice enough people when I merely told them I was an atheist. I’ve been told that I couldn’t possibly be, that I am too smart to be an atheist and dismissed as a nutjob. (As if the belief in god isn’t even nuttier.) I know some fellow atheists who have been slugged and tossed out of places for owning up to their beliefs.

But I’m willing to say it again. Not only am I an atheist, but I loathe religion. I think it is a great evil, that has caused and still causes more pain and suffering and harm than it does good. It doesn’t matter the slightest to me that a large majority of people profess some sort of faith. It may be a base, primitive human need, but that doesn’t make it good, or right.

And like it or not, hating religion and not believing in god does not make me a bad person. I, and I’d venture to guess most of the people who know me, consider me to be a generally pretty good, decent sort of guy. (No doubt with a few quirks, but that’s for some other blog post some other time.)

I do not try to do the right things in my life because I am afraid of hell, or some sort of eternal torment or being excluded from an eternal life (another thing I loathe – harp music) or because I’ll be reincarnated as a cockroach.

I do the right thing as often as I can for several reasons. Simply because it is the right thing. Because of the adage – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because of wanting to go along to get along. And in some cases because I don’t want to end up in jail which sounds like hell enough to me.

So I’m glad that my fellow atheists are standing up publically to show their faces, to do the same thing that the gay rights movement did when it took up chants such as, “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” That’s one of the things I’m saying in this blog.

But I am a little disappointed by the failure of tomorrow’s rally to address some specific issues on which we atheists should be leading the charge. In my mind the most important has to do with the impact of faith-based finance in the public arena. This is particularly important in an election year.

Religious organizations in this country have a lot of money. They’re able to use that money to push their political agenda – whatever agenda that may be. They can mobilize their congregations to show up at rallies, canvass districts, get out the vote, donate to super-pacs. Because of all that they are invaluable to politicians, who are in turn terrified to do anything that might alienate them.

And one of the main reasons that religious groups have all that money is that they are given huge tax exemptions to go about their business. Rather than the state making war on churches, as so many religious right wingers like to claim, religious organizations get enormous advantages granted to them by the government.

The Catholic Church, Scientology and several Jewish temples and organizations are among the largest landowners in Los Angeles County for example. They don’t pay any property tax.

Religious affiliated charities are regarded as non-profits and are tax exempt, as are contributions to them. The Catholic Diocese in Los Angeles raided those charitable coffers to defend pedophile priests and build its giant new downtown cathedral – the Taj [Cardinal] Mahoney, a monument to venality and crass opulence. Other religious groups use their tax-deductible contributions to fund and fill anti-abortion rallies, to lobby the government to leave Israel alone about the building of settlements in the occupied territories, to take cruises and drive expensive cars and… you name it.

There is a very large gray area in which religions and their charities operate, where it is nearly impossible to separate their religious activities from their public, secular ones. The scope for, and actual abuse of these tax exemptions is enormous. And it is especially bad at a time when most governments, from the federal on down to the cities, could use the money.

Tax the churches ought to be one of the rallying cries at tomorrow’s rally. Let’s really separate church and state by not giving churches huge advantages over everyone else. Let them go about their business on their own, without taking money out of our pockets by not paying their fair share.

For all you religious folk out there, there is even a Bible verse that supports what I’m saying: “And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.” – Mark 12: 17, King James version.

16 March 2012


While standing in the long, slow security line for a recent flight to Chicago, juggling to get my laptop and a small bag of liquid and gels out of my bags, my coat off, my belt off, my shoes off my feet, my pockets emptied, the loathsome med-alert necklace off from around my neck, I noticed a sign I’d never seen before. “Passengers 12 and under do not need to remove their shoes and coats.”

This morning as I was leafing through the L.A. Times over my coffee, I came across this article: “A pass for some older air travelers.” The gist of the story is that starting this coming Monday, some air travelers 75 or older will also be allowed through security lines without taking off their shoes, coats, etc. and will be much less likely to be asked to step aside to be frisked. The program is being started on a trial basis in Chicago, Denver, Orlando and Portland, Oregon because those airports have a high percentage of elderly travelers.

I have long suspected that an awful lot of what the TSA makes us go through in airport security lines is more for show than for actual security. Maybe the show does have a deterrent effect on most of us. But now they’ve just announced that two whole groups of people don’t have to worry about it.

Are there no elderly terrorists? Or are there no old people who can’t be convinced, bribed, bullied or blackmailed into carrying weapons and/or explosives onto an airplane? “We’ve got your beloved grandson, put this under your coat.”

One of my grandmothers was a fairly nasty piece of work, and bullheaded and wasn’t going to do what she didn’t want to do for anybody or any reason. The other, however, all sweetness and light and fluff was as gullible as a person gets – she could be manipulated into almost anything.

And kids? Don’t get me started on kids. They are little more than short sociopaths, especially these days when they are constantly told they are everybody’s little darlings. A kid will do anything if you approach it right and dangle the right treat in front of it. “Mommy loves you, darling. I know the vest is heavy under your coat and that your shoes fit funny, but don’t worry, it won’t be for long and you’ll get your reward soon.”

I’ve always been nervous when I’ve spotted nuns on planes that I’m on. What are they keeping under their habits? Now add the elderly and kids to the list.

06 March 2012


I just finished doing my taxes for 2011. It was not a good year. I had $13,821 in deductible, unreimbursed medical expenses (including my over $5,000 insurance premium.)

Which is to say that I've got health insurance. My insurance did pay more than $13,821 on my behalf, but not a whole lot more.

It's a very good thing that my blood clot was diagnosed in Mississippi. It's nearly impossible to figure these things out exactly - what hospitals charge for medical care is about as transparent as the average lead-lined bank vault - but from what I have been able to gather, had my clot been diagnosed here in Los Angeles and had I gone to Cedars-Sinai (the big name hospital in town) it would have cost me and my insurance company at least three times as much money.

And I don't see how any of that is going to change with the new healthcare law.

Certainly, as of 2014 if the Republicans don't manage to dump the thing - which I don't think they will - I'll be able to get health insurance even if I want to change plans, even with my pre-existing conditions. And that's not a bad thing, nothing to sneeze at.

But I'm still going to have to pay through the nose for it. Possibly even more than I do now because the insurance companies aren't prevented from raising their rates to make up for what they see as higher costs. The word "affordable" in the act's actual name of record is laughable.

And if I need to use it, it's still not going to cover me well enough to avoid enormous out of pocket expenses.

I don't know what the solution is to any of this. The asswipes on both sides of the Congressional aisle talk about increasing competition among the insurance companies as a way to lower prices. Yet no one has bothered doing the simple thing of allowing companies to sell insurance across state lines - using the lower costs in, say, Mississippi to help offset the higher costs here in California. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know there are complications involved, but are they really any less surmountable than all the grief that the current system is causing?)

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that at some point in the next 10 to 15 or so years I have but one of several alternatives:

Get rich, really rich, somehow or another.

Move to a more civilized country where even if they don't have a national health care plan, at least health care is affordable - like Thailand or Costa Rica or Romania.

Suicide - a trip to a pet store in Mexico to stock up on Pentobarbital isn't such a bad idea. (By way of a related aside - read my friend Ashley Ream's recently published book: Losing Clementine.)

That's all I've got to say about my taxes this year. Well, I do wish to hell that I owed a whole lot of taxes, enormous amounts of taxes, enough to kill at least one Taliban fighter (which is pretty damn expensive) or fill 50 or 60 potholes on my street even - which is a lot less expensive. If I did, it would mean I made a whole lot more money than I did.