Friday, December 16, 2011

Santa Baby, Please Bring Me Another Cunt Coloring Book!

So, the other night I was driving down the road minding my own business, when I saw my turn coming up. In my usual safe, perfect-driving-record-for-25-years-and-counting fashion, I put on my signal and began gradually slowing down to make a right turn.

As I turned, I heard someone yell loudly: "Fucking CUNT!!!" I turned to see where the sound was coming from, and saw one of those motorcycle yuppies... you know the type, they get on their motorcycles when they feel the need to pretend like they are something other than a sniveling, whiny, middle-aged adolescent? Turns out, he was yelling at ME and flipping me off, although the only thing I can think of that I might have done to piss him off was own and drive a mini-van that he probably didn't notice was slowing down in front of him because he had been too busy looking to his left and behind him to see if any women 20 years his junior were checking out his very desperate attempt to look bad-ass.

Of course, I realized that his screams of profanity were designed to shock and insult me, but what this loser clearly didn't realize is that he was addressing a woman who happens to have owned a Cunt Coloring Book in the past decade.

So, not only was I not shocked at the fact that such a man-child had screamed such a word in a feeble attempt to shock me in the only show of power he could muster, I wasn't even offended.

It is also worth noting that the truly bad-ass motorcycle dudes that I know would never behave in such a trashy manner... unless their girlfriend was into that sort of thing, of course.

Penn Jillette and his partner, Teller, have addressed the issue of profanity and how absolutely ridiculous it is for us to get offended by certain sounds that people emit from their mouths in their former show on Showtime: "Bullshit!" I happen to agree with their position.

What's more, is that Penn and I have a mutual acquaintance who is a very talented artist, and derives great artistic pleasure from painting beautiful works of art depicting famous women's - well... CUNTS.

As a matter of fact, she and I used to jokingly address one another as "cunts" in order to express our mutual embracing of the word which refers to one of the most amazing parts of a woman's body EVER. I mean, come ON! This is where we feel some of the most intense pleasure as women... (guys tend to feel a lot of pleasure at the same location, interestingly enough). It is where life emerges from a woman's body. It is one of the most life-affirming, pleasurable inventions of nature, so why should anyone shouting a word that refers to it be shocking or offensive? I refuse to allow anyone to hijack a word that represents something so wonderful and use it to insult me.

If your intent is to insult me, maybe try using a different word that doesn't represent something that I have and which I view as quite amazing.

Sadly, The Cunt Coloring Book is out of print, and a used one goes for around $70 or so on Amazon. Maybe I'll make one of my own... or better yet, maybe I can get one from Santa Clause! (The one from "Bad Santa", of course.)



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When In Doubt... Return To Your Roots (And Root Words)...

As someone who has little desire to be right, and much desire to be ACCURATE, I am always noticing little ways that misunderstandings occur and outright confusion is perpetuated through carelessness in communication, be it written or spoken.

One of the things that is often a bone of contention between atheists (non-believers) like myself and religious people is that there is a huge misconception that atheist means something that it does not, in fact, mean. This is partially because many dictionaries contain inaccurate definitions for it (and many other words) written by those who sometimes fail to adhere to the definitions of the root words and their prefixes and/or suffixes, thus embellishing or even changing the definitions to the point where the word becomes an inaccurate distortion of not only the origin of its root word and any prefix or suffix, but also a distortion of the word's functional meaning.

I'm referring to the fact that several dictionaries falsely define atheism as "one who believes there is no deity", as in the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary online. Why is this inaccurate? Because it varies from the actual meanings of the prefix and root word, when anyone who studies language will tell you that such variation is a huge cause of confusion and mis-translation.

Here is the actual definition of the word atheism, with the Latin prefix and root word to the left, and its meaning in English to the right:

A = not, without
Theism = belief in the existence of god or gods

In other words, atheists are "not" theists. Atheists are "without" theism. (Atheists are without a belief in a god or gods.)

Somehow, in adding ONE LETTER to the word theism, which they accurately defined, they have come up with a COMPLETELY different, arbitrary and inaccurate definition of not only the word "atheism", but the prefix "a" as well.

How on EARTH can one get "one who believes there is no deity" from a root word that is defined as "a belief in the existence of god or gods" simply by adding one letter that means "without"? This is a glaring error, and one that must be corrected if any dictionary is to be respected as an authority on the definition of that or any other word.

In this example, Merriam-Webster has taken the established definition of the prefix "a", which is "not" or "without", and changed it to mean "believes there is no". This prefix simply doesn't have that meaning. The prefix "a" has nothing to do with belief, and it does not have the same meaning as "anti", which means "against" or "opposite".

If Merriam-Webster defines the word "theism" as "belief in the existence of god or gods", adding a prefix that means "without" should change the meaning of the word by only one word, to include the word "without" rather than to embellish and include other words that mislead one to come to the conclusion that there is some type of "belief" involved in not having a belief to begin with. "Belief" implies an active decision toward a specific conclusion, not a lack of a conclusion based on a lack of evidence.

One letter should only change the definition of the word "theist" according to the definition of that one letter, a Latin prefix meaning "not" or "without", to mean "without a belief in god or gods"... and yet we see here that whomever authored the definition for the word atheist inserted their own misguided assumptions about those who call themselves atheists, and I'd be willing to bet that the person who wrote it was NOT an atheist.

If I had a dime for every time I had to explain to a "believer" why atheism does NOT mean that one "denies" there is a god or gods, claims to know that there is no god or gods, or has a "belief" that there is no god or gods, I would be a very wealthy woman.

The lack of belief of the atheist is not required to be based on a belief that there is no god or gods, but rather, is most often based on the fact that there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support it. In fact, there is no more scientific evidence to support the idea that there is a magical being in control of and/or which created the universe than there is to support the idea that when a child loses a tooth a flying entity comes and takes the tooth and leaves money under the child's pillow.

Both beliefs are based on the claims of human beings to other human beings. Both beliefs are believed based on blind faith in the claims and the person making them, with no critical thinking whatsoever involved. That's what "faith" means... "complete trust" or "firm belief in something for which there is no proof".

I suspect that the reason many have this misconception that atheists have a "belief" in there being no such thing as a god or gods is that there *are* many atheists who *do* claim to know this, and millions of atheists like myself disagree with that position, since it is not knowable whether there is or is not a god or gods. Most atheists simply recognize that there is about as much likelihood that there is a god or gods as there is a likelihood that there is a tooth fairy or anything else of a supernatural nature written and/or spoken about and/or taught by humans to other humans over the course of humanity.

Then comes the next stage in the discussion (I've had this same discussion with literally HUNDREDS of people over the past decade), which is usually that "you aren't an atheist then, you are an agnostic".


The word "agnostic" is Greek in origin, and means: "Greek agnōstos unknown, unknowable, from a- + gnōstos" known

A = not, without
Gnostos = known

In other words, not known.

Agnostics tend to be "on the fence" about whether they believe in a god or gods. However, atheists, while most are humble enough to acknowledge as agnostics do that it is not knowable whether a god or gods exist, are not on the fence at all. This isn't to say that they have a "belief" that there is no god, any more than they have a "belief" that there is no tooth fairy. Rather, they are not inclined to waver back and forth like an agnostic tends to do, and remain steadfast in their position that it makes no sense to believe anything based on faith, and that until there is proof of a god or gods, it makes no sense to behave as if there is, anymore than the fact that having no proof one way or another that there is or is not a monster under your bed means that you should have faith that there is and behave as though there is, living with irrational fear that you will be grabbed if your feet dangle off of your bed.

Likewise, the atheist position is that it makes no sense to live in fear of burning in an eternal lake of fire or fly planes into buildings in the hope of obtaining 77 virgins after one's death in an invisible world called "the afterlife" simply because there is no proof that there is or is not a god or gods. If one plays the odds in such a foolish manner, as in Pascal's Wager, one must then adhere to all religious claims and carry out all instructions from all religions in order to "be safe", since there is no way to know which religion is true among the many religions in conflict with one another.

Some people believe that it is bad luck to cross the path of a black cat. An atheist would not adjust their path to avoid a black cat. An agnostic might do so "just to be safe". The atheist position is that it makes no sense to do so without evidence to support the theory, and the believer's position is that you must not just *pretend* to believe in a god or gods in order to "just be safe" but that you must really believe wholeheartedly in the god or gods in question and obey whatever the humans who claim to quote them say, or else pay the consequences.

The desire for religious people to define atheism as a "belief" comes from a need to attempt to put atheism in the same category as religion so that they can put themselves on equal ground with atheists and argue that "atheism is just another belief that you can't prove". The reason why this doesn't make sense is that belief implies a commitment toward something specific in spite of the fact that there is no proof, and un-belief (lack of belief) simply dismisses any notion that it makes sense to have "faith" in something that is not supported in any way by scientific evidence.

Atheism is a "belief system" or "religion" the same way "off" is a television channel. It isn't.

Science is a "belief system" or "religion" the same way "off" is a television channel. It isn't.

Put another way, an agnostic isn't sure whether they do or do not have a belief in a god or gods. Often, agnostics find themselves believing that there is a god or gods based on faith, even though they acknowledge that it isn't knowable. At other times, agnostics doubt the existence of a god or gods, which is really what agnosticism is all about: doubting that there is a god even though they at times believe that there is one.

Atheists do not waver back and forth. Atheists do not believe in a god or gods one moment, and then change their minds the next. Atheists are without a belief in a god or gods based on faith or anything else. We simply do not find a reason to believe in anything based on faith, since one can believe in anything based on faith, as faith does not require any supporting evidence whatsoever. We are open to believing if someone provides us with evidence to support such a theory, but it must be real, testable, repeatable, observable, verifiable evidence, and not just someone's word from ages ago back when people didn't even know where lightning comes from.

If someone approached you today and told you that a bush caught on fire and began speaking to them, and claimed that it was a god speaking to them, I seriously doubt even the most religious among us would find that person credible, simply because such a statement flies in the face of everything we know to be possible and/or realistic. In fact, we would probably ask them what drug they had just ingested. Why, then, do we accept such claims made by people from thousands of years ago?

I am without a belief in a god or gods. I am not against such ideas. I am not anti-god or anti-gods. In fact, I rather like the idea of the version of the Christian god that is all-loving and protective, even if I do not care for the jealous, angry, vengeful, torturing god that wants to throw those who do not believe into an eternal lake of burning fire, which doesn't seem loving at all to me. (Even most humans aren't that sadistic. Aren't gods supposed to be above humans in their behavior? Seems like a very low-level being that would threaten such a thing.) However, liking the idea of something does not mean that it makes sense to believe in it.

I am extremely fond of the idea of Leprechauns and the pots of gold they are said to carry around. Unfortunately, I have no reason to believe in those, either, and even if I believed in them, it is not going to change the reality of whether they do or do not exist.

In order for a person to be rightfully accused of "believing" there is no god or gods, one would have to be an ANTI-theist... since "anti" is a Latin root meaning "against" or "opposite". What is opposite of believing in the existence of something? Not a lack of belief in it, which is passive, but rather, an outright declaration or claim that it does not exist. Most atheists do not make such claims. They simply declare the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support such a claim, and until there is, they find no reason to believe. It's not the same thing as saying "I know there is no god." It's a very distinct difference.

Need another example?

An atheist says "I am not against the idea of a god or gods. Prove it to me and I'll believe. Until then, I find no valid reason to believe."

An agnostic says "I am not against the idea of a god or gods. Prove it to me and I'll believe for certain, but I might already believe on some level based on faith, I'm just not sure all of the time. Sometimes I *feel* that there is a god or gods even though I recognize that it is not knowable, but sometimes I think that's just wishful thinking."

You can not prove a negative. Proving that there is no god is not possible. We can only prove something that exists, not something that doesn't exist. The burden of proof is on those making the claim. If there is one, prove it. It isn't our job to prove that it *doesn't* exist. Science doesn't attempt to prove what does not exist. Science only looks for evidence of what does exist or is thought to exist. To date, despite the fact that there are thousands of scientists who are religious and desperately want to prove the existence of a god, there has been not one bit of evidence that meets scientific standards that shows any sign whatsoever that there is such an entity.

Furthermore, you don't prove there is a god responsible for creating the universe simply because you disprove an alternate theory. The proof that one is invalid does not create proof that the other is valid by default.

If I have two suspects in a crime, I can not convict one because the other is found not guilty. I must prove that suspect number two is guilty the same way that I must prove suspect number one is guilty. The same is true of theories on how the universe began. The fact that we can not prove the big bang theory does not create proof that the universe was created by a supernatural entity, nor does it make such a magical idea any more likely to be true.

Another argument gets made that "but lots of atheists claim that there is no god and argue that they know there is no god". To assume that making such a claim somehow changes the definition of the word "atheist" or "atheism" is every bit as ridiculous as claiming that Westboro Baptist Church members who carry signs that say "God Hates Fags" somehow changes the definition of the word Christianity into something that means "a religion whose followers hate homosexuals". How ludicrous!

It is a mistake to define a word by what people who call themselves by that label do. The word or label has a specific definition that is not interchangeable, otherwise it becomes useless as a word.

Unfortunately, there are many words and concepts that are misunderstood in every language, and some are unable to resist the temptation to explain a word according to their (mis)-understanding when defining it and submitting a definition for inclusion in a dictionary.

Dictionaries are not written by any one person, but by many people, all of whom submit definitions, and those definitions which get updated periodically are adjusted for the sake of clarity or to correct errors.

I can hear the cynical jackasses of our society now. "Oh my flying spaghetti monster! I can't believe Angie Max is actually disputing the dictionary! How ARROGANT of her! Who does she think she is?!?"

I'll tell you who I am... I am a human being, no more and no less than the people who submit definitions for inclusion in dictionaries. The reason why dictionaries get updated is that errors do occur and are pointed out by others just like me. There's nothing arrogant about attempting to correct errors, and no, it doesn't mean I think I'm "smarter than the people who wrote the dictionary". It simply means that, regarding the word atheism, I have insight and knowledge that those who varied from the well-established meanings of the prefix "a" and the root word "theism" obviously did not have.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Who's Bullying Whom?

I wasn't going to talk about this, but recent events have given me reason to change that decision. I think it's time to provide some perspective to those who are willing and able to view it.

Last week, on Tuesday, my brother and I both spent the day in horror as we received phone calls indicating that our mother was likely dead and that she may have been in her house dead for a week or more.

It is not uncommon for us to not be able to reach her for days at a time or even a week or so. It is not uncommon for people (her neighbors) to bang on the doors and windows and get no response when checking on her. However, it *IS* uncommon for her to not come to the door when the "Meals on Wheels" delivery person arrives each Tuesday.

For the second Tuesday in a row, my mother had not come to the door. Furthermore, her neighbors called in a panic and said that it appeared that her mail had not been picked up in more than a week, since the bill for trash pick up arrived for everyone in her neighborhood a week earlier and hers was still in her mailbox.

This was what prompted my brother and I to interrupt very busy and hectic work days (I was traveling for business between TN and KY that day) and contact the local police. For hours we waited for word as we exchanged text messages and phone calls. Nothing.

Finally, my brother and I prepared ourselves for the worst and agreed that we would both drive to Atlanta - both from different states - and meet at my mother's house and get a locksmith to unlock her newly installed front door, to which not even her neighbors had a key yet. We knew it would not be pretty, and the images that run through one's mind are quite unpleasant when considering the possibly week-old decomposing body of a loved one.

While enduring this mental torture, my brother was trying to maintain his composure as a prosecutor carrying out his duties in court, and I was trying to maintain mine as a technical consultant for my clients. I didn't mention the situation to the people I was working with, as it would have been too much of a distraction and I worried it would come across as unprofessional. It wasn't easy to manage.

Once I had handled the business at hand in Nashville, I headed to Chattanooga, knowing that if we got word that my mother was okay by then I would be roughly the same distance from Knoxville as from Atlanta.

The police had been to her house at our request and they got no response either. However, they did not want to break the windows or doors, for reasons I suppose had to do with the fact that her new front door was just installed a week earlier (reinforced steel after a burglary my mother reported) and that if she was dead there would be nothing they could do anyway.

After 12 hours of horrific stress, I finally got word from my brother that my mother's sister had heard from her. My mother later told me she had been in the hospital with her diabetes for a week and that she didn't remember anyone's number and didn't even remember what happened or how she ended up in the hospital.

There are still many unanswered questions, and those who know the situation well know that there are many other things at work here that I'm not going to get into publicly. However, suffice it to say that, while I am relieved that my mother is alive, there is still much concern and stress over the fact that my mother refuses to allow us to move her closer to where I live so I can keep a closer eye on her and be more readily available when needed. There is also much stress over dealing with the issues of not knowing what really happened and trying to piece things together from a variety of things that have occurred over the past few weeks.

While dealing with all of this, I started getting messages from people that several individuals had begun a smear campaign against me. Apparently, because I am headstrong and debate relentlessly point for point with people who make political and religious statements that are not supported by facts, there are some who feel the need to attack me personally.

This isn't just a matter of people making obnoxious and insulting comments in a thread or in response to a status update. We're talking about a blatant campaign to assassinate my character and make unfounded accusations. The individuals in question sent messages to people on my friends list who they mistakenly believed I wasn't all that close to with a variety of statements designed to sabotage me.

The one and only thing that was true in the messages sent by these individuals which were forwarded to me was that I am a convicted felon. Apparently, the claim was that they are "outing me" as a felon and "warning" other people about me. Umm... HELLOOOOOOOO.... I've only been "outing" myself for about a year and a half now. LOL Read my blogs, folks. I've been extremely open about my status as a felon who plead guilty to wire fraud charges. I talk about it often. I even wrote a book about it. I'm not sure why anyone would think there is a need to "out" me to people who already know this information, but nonetheless, these people decided to do just that.

Other accusations ranged from the claim that I never went to the high school in TN where I spent the first two years (did the last two in GA) to the claim that I don't even have a felony and just made up the whole story about going to prison so I could write a book about it.

Of course, at first I wasn't too worried because everyone already knew about my felony and the people who received the messages were more disgusted by the behavior of these people than I was. It was mentioned to me that these people tend to spend a lot of their time drinking and getting high, despite the fact that they are in their 40's, and I believe the term one of my friends used was "perpetual adolescents".

One of the people involved is a woman I went to high school with and thought was a friend. Of course, I'm no stranger to friends who turn on me for a variety of reasons - whether because I disagree with them and refuse to cave in to their arguments anymore than they do mine - (*I* don't go on personal character assassination campaigns when people argue with *me*) - or because they disagree on matters of critical thinking vs. religion, medicine, science, or anything else.

I'm a pretty forgiving person, but I'm not too quick to trust people again once they've stabbed me in the back. Still, I won't hold my breath for an apology from people such as these.

It is interesting to me that when I made a particularly clear point that one of these individuals couldn't counter with anything intelligent he responded with "shut the fuck up". I suppose that is the point at which I should have blocked him, but I didn't realize the true level of immaturity and mental unbalance I was dealing with in this person at the time.

Since then, I have learned much about what has gone on behind the scenes, because these people also have people with whom they are friends who are turning on them now that they are revealing themselves to be less-than-capable of mature friendship.

There have been attempts to hack into my accounts, (I get notified when there are failed login attempts) and a variety of other activity which I have fully documented for legal purposes. I may be a felon, but I share a house with a retired police officer and we have many mutual friends who are currently still in law enforcement at a variety of levels. I am fortunate that they are available to advise me on what steps need to be taken to protect myself. (Incidentally, they don't view me as dangerous or untrustworthy at all. They're a good judge of character, and they know the difference between someone who makes a mistake and someone who is a career criminal.)

I've been told there are likely a variety of reasons for this behavior by mutual friends of the individuals involved in this hateful behavior. The possible reasons range from the fact that I have declined invitations to go to parties and engage in drinking and getting high with them to the fact that I have shown no romantic and/or sexual interest in any of them. Whatever. Only these people know what their motivations are, but I know for a fact I have done nothing to deserve this kind of negative attention and extreme effort on their part.

Now, there are allegations that I am a horrible person because I have supposedly "attacked" people.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who will whine incessantly that people like me make posts about atheism that amount to about 2% of the number of posts that appear in their social update stream compared to the number of religious posts.

I do not whine that anyone is attacking atheism every time they make a prayer request, start the day by "praising the lord" or god or whatever they choose to call the subject of their particular belief. I don't whine because others don't use a religion-specific greeting. I don't even whine about people wishing me a Merry Christmas. I'm perfectly happy with whatever greeting one wishes to share with me. I, however, choose to follow the Jewish philosophy which the religious figure Jesus is said to have also shared which says that we should treat others as we would like to be treated, which means that I try to be all-inclusive in my greetings rather than risk alienating anyone and making them feel as though they are surrounded by people who do not recognize any celebration or religious holiday but their own. Jesus himself wasn't that selfish if anything that has been written about him is true.

In a world full of self-righteous, self-centered people, it can be a very hostile environment for those of us who are in the minority. There are death threats I receive on a regular basis (another reason why I have developed so many close relationships with law enforcement) and there is non-stop bullying I endure.

Sometimes the bullying takes the form of accusing ME of being a bully for not buying what those who disagree with me are selling. Sometimes it takes the form of others spreading false rumors, or trying to distort truths about me into something more than what they are. Some people try to convince others that I have attacked them when I have, in fact, done no such thing.

One of the individuals who is campaigning against me has a restraining order out against him by another friend and is known to be mentally unbalanced. I have a very mentally ill family member, and I am sympathetic to such ailments, but I will not tolerate inappropriate behavior from such people either.

There was a tirade a couple of days ago (of which I have a copy) against me by this person telling me what a horrible person I am for having a wire fraud conviction and being a convicted felon and on and on and on. His attempts were designed to intimidate and belittle me. So, at the suggestion of several people, I flipped it back on him and asked him some questions... asked him if some of the awful things I had heard about him were true.

Apparently, he is now playing the victim. Everyone knows I don't tolerate double standards, nor will I walk on egg shells for someone who is throwing stones my way and lives in a glass house themselves.

If you can't take it, don't dish it out.

These things do not hurt my feelings, they do not concern me except for the fact that my personal safety may be threatened, and they certainly do not discourage me from continuing to share information and counter irrational arguments made by others. If anything, it makes me more determined not to be silenced.

I am grateful to my loyal friends who are keeping me informed, who have my back, and who refuse to allow themselves to be manipulated by others who have nothing better to do than spend their time attacking someone they simply don't like.

If I rub you the wrong way to the point where you feel the need to attack my character and/or exploit past mistakes, that's a reflection of who you are as a person, and in no way has anything to do with who *I* am as a person.

Having said that, if you find my refusal to agree with what makes no sense to me to be so disconcerting, please feel free to remove me from your friends list. It won't hurt my feelings. I have plenty of friends who disagree with me but are mature enough to respect our differences rather than behave like toddlers throwing temper tantrums and engaging in childish behavior.

I can not be responsible for the words and actions of others - only myself. I was once again reminded of this by someone who tends to be very militant, even though he and I share the same views. He has said some things that were a bit strong even for my taste to people on the other side of debates, and I tried to be the peacemaker and point out that what started it all seemed to me to be a misunderstanding, which resulted in me being accused by both sides of siding with the other side. (I'm quite accustomed to that as a libertarian-leaning individual... conservatives accuse me of being a liberal, liberals accuse me of being a conservative. I'm neither.) Likewise, I wasn't taking any sides in this particular case, but merely trying to let people know that the people they had mistaken for contrarians were actually just presenting alternate views. Of course, it didn't work out, so from now on I'm allowing others to handle their disagreements and will refrain from trying to break anything up, as it is usually the one breaking up a fight who receives the most punches.

I will close by saying that it isn't rational or fair to accuse those who counter your arguments with solid arguments of their own of "attacking" you. If they attack you personally, ok. They are attacking you. I, however, do not attack people personally. I don't "attack" anything. I refute false statements and counter them with either facts or well-supported theories or arguments. I am always willing to back up my claims, and I don't require that anyone accept my statements just because I'm making them. I certainly don't tell them to "shut the fuck up" just because they have made a solid point that I can not counter with more information.

It is mentally exhausting to some people to put the effort forth to make sure their points are based on solid evidence or sound theory, but it is something I do well most of the time and if that annoys you, I strongly urge you not to engage me in debate. The positions I hold come not from opinions which I attempted to bolster with false information appearing real, but rather, I investigated matters, evaluated information objectively, absent any need to come to any particular conclusion, and *that* is why I take the positions I take.

In the end, if it isn't kept friendly, it's not very worthwhile unless it is something that may cause harm to others if it is not refuted and an attempt made to share important data. An example would be those who choose not to vaccinate their children simply because there are some admitted safety issues with some of our vaccines. That is a situation that I wouldn't back down from, and I would have no qualms about personally insulting someone by calling them a bad parent for putting their child in danger of contracting a life-threatening illness. Otherwise, I try to stick to the topic at hand rather than attack the individual making the argument. It's too bad others can't do the same, and it's even more unfortunate that they are disrupting so many otherwise peaceful (albeit opinionated) people as a result.

What's interesting is that the people who are currently assassinating my character are people who were very friendly when my views agreed with their own. It was only when they didn't that they began acting like buffoons. I'll just chalk it up to a lack of maturity and them likely being under the influence of illegal substances, of which I understand they partake regularly. (This is another reason why I have never done illegal drugs or even legal drugs illegally, despite the fact that I think they should all be de-criminalized for a variety of reasons.)

Whatever holiday you celebrate at this very festive time of year, I wish you peace and joy, and I hope you will keep in mind that the reason for the season is to share peace and love, regardless of whatever natural patterns in the environment, religious figures or belief systems have inspired you to do so.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Than Meets The Eye...

I've blogged a lot about how great it is to be able to reconnect with old friends via Facebook over the past 1 1/2 years or so. However, there's another dimension to that which has surfaced, and it has to do with the fact that sometimes we discover that there are even more interesting facets to the people we once knew and become re-acquainted with than we ever imagined.

Recently there are two people (both with the same first names even) for whom I have MUCH respect and adoration who both are surprised at how different I am than the way I was perceived as a youngster and who both have surprised me with how multi-dimensional and deep they are than I would have ever imagined.

I've also recently discovered, after announcing my soon-to-be-released book about my experience with the federal criminal legal system, that there are many people from my younger days who have also had similar experiences of which many of their former classmates are not aware.

Today I had lunch with a dear friend whom I hadn't seen since Dad's funeral in 1985. When I was 4, and I think he was probably about 18, I had a huge crush on him and made him a ginormous Valentine's Day card once. I also think I had plans to marry him one day. Now, of course, I'm 42 and the very idea of marriage scares me to death, so I'm happy to say that he's very happily married to his wife of 20+ years after tragically losing his first wife to cancer the year after Dad died of brain cancer.

He still looks the way I remember him, very tall at 6'6" and could definitely be intimidating to anyone who didn't know him. We know one another because Dad was the organist at the church where his father was the pastor back in the 70's, and many of the people from that church are still like family in my mind and it's always nice when we run into one another and/or reconnect.

I've recently had some serious issues to contend with regarding the mental health of a family member, and we were able to share stories about that since he experienced the same thing with his sister years ago. Sadly, she was beginning to get her life back together when she was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter.

What was most comforting to me about this meeting, however, was that both he and I have had some experience with the federal legal system, and we shared our stories today.

The synopsis of his experience is that he was an attorney and was building a successful law firm when he and his wife were falsely charged with misappropriation/theft of millions of dollars by someone who had a beef with him. (I can relate to that - people who have a beef with me about political issues have been known to make unfounded accusations as well. It's disturbing.) He was arrested and spent a few days in jail, but that was it. Luckily, he had enough money to fight the charges and was also able to make bail (something my situation did not allow).

The end result was that all charges were dismissed, but it took ELEVEN YEARS and totally bankrupted him and his family. Yes, folks, people in this country who are COMPLETELY innocent of all charges against them can have their lives destroyed, lose their professional licenses, and be driven into bankruptcy simply because someone makes false accusations, even if all charges are eventually dropped and they do no prison time.

And yes, some of us are partially responsible for things that we are accused of, even if not 100%, and we end up going to prison once we realize we'll spend more time in prison by standing up for ourselves than we will if we take a plea, because the system really is that jacked up and that slow in many cases.

One of the things I found solace in was the fact that I was sitting across from someone who knows just how misleading newspapers can be, and more importantly, just how willing some people are to believe whatever negative things are reported in the newspaper by the journalists covering the court cases.

To be fair, the journalists are often just quoting the prosecutors. However, what a prosecutor says and how it is said is often so distorted that it doesn't even begin to give a clear picture of the true situation.

In my case, I was accused of defrauding customers by "selling items she didn't own or even possess" I believe is how it was worded. It seems that few people understand the very old (think: Sears catalog) and very common practice of businesses using drop-shippers to supply their customers with the products the business is selling.

In business, when one sells large items that are expensive to ship (and sometimes even small items) it is common practice that, instead of ordering large quantities of the product and paying to have it shipped to the business and then paying for storage facilities for said inventory, when the catalog or online retailer receives an order for a product, they pay the wholesale price of the item plus shipping to the supplier and the supplier then ships the product(s) directly to the customer. It's the only way most catalog/retail companies are able to make a profit.

Unfortunately, being a small business and not having a lot of experience and/or resources, I had managed to secure business with some drop-shipping suppliers that turned out to not be so reliable. I had successfully run the business online via a company web site and eBay sales as well for more than 1 1/2 years with NO problems whatsoever and very happy customers. Then, suppliers began not shipping products after I had paid them for the product, and I didn't find out about it until the customers were threatening me with legal action because they hadn't received what they had paid for.

Customers don't understand what drop-shipping is, and they don't care. They are concerned with the fact that they aren't getting what they paid for, and sadly, explaining to them what's going on often results in them accusing you of ripping them off. (Never mind the fact that true fraudsters just take your money and you never hear from them again - not even to explain to you that there are issues with suppliers or shipping.)

It also seems that some people are so cynical that they would RATHER believe they have been ripped off in order to reinforce their cynical view of the world and/or satisfy their need to direct their anger at things not going smoothly at someone rather than deal with the fact that sometimes things simply don't go well and it is beyond the control of the person who is responsible.

I should have done more due diligence when securing suppliers. I should have secured more capital before getting into a situation where suppliers not shipping an item I paid them for left me without enough money to make refunds in a situation where I was getting ripped off by the supplier.

Ultimately, I was the one who received payment, the business was in my name as were all of the related accounts, and I was the one held responsible. I accept that. Still, it's nice when you have a conversation with an attorney friend who totally gets where you're coming from, since most people don't get it at all. (In fact, this was the main reason I was told I couldn't win in court, because the jury wouldn't be allowed to hear expert witness testimony explaining what drop-shipping even is, much less that it happened to be the cause of my customers not getting items they had paid for. Things just don't work in court - especially federal court - the way they do on television.)

My long-lost friend shared his experience with how some of the people he considered to be very good friends of his totally turned their backs on him/judged him when they read what they read about him in the paper. Again, another experience which most have never had and yet which we both could relate to and share.

Ironically, it is often those who consider themselves to be skeptics of everything printed in the newspaper who will turn around and share stories from that same newspaper with friends when it is about someone they know, and they never even question what it says, assuming it is all 100% true. For some, skepticism ends where the desire to believe what is scandalous and interesting begins.

After some very stressful and disturbing issues my brother and I have had to deal with this week regarding a family matter, it was nice to relax for a couple of hours and share experiences with a kindred mind who understands that which most lack the information or experience to even fathom.

I have much respect for this man and his family, as I can't imagine going through what I went through and also having to be concerned for a spouse and children as well. I am happy to know that it is possible for some people to prevail in such cases, but I am saddened at the devastation it has caused them.

My friend will have a hearing early next year to see if he can get his law license reinstated, and if he doesn't, something is very very wrong with the disciplinary board and the people making the decision. The world needs more attorneys who know FIRST HAND just how unjust the criminal "justice" system can be.

Yes, it may be one of the best in the world, at least in theory. Still, that's no excuse for some of its shortcomings not being addressed, and if we value our country we need to start paying more attention to it, because with more people in prison per capita (most for non-violent and/or victim-less crimes) than any country in the world, we are quickly losing our title as a "free" country.

So, my advice to anyone reading this is that you might want to exercise more skepticism the next time you read a newspaper article about anyone who is accused of anything. Who knows, one day we may be reading something similar about you in the same newspaper.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sometimes Change Is Necessary

Recently, I've had a lot of people contact me and warn me that I need to be very cautious regarding my personal safety, because there are apparently some people who not only can not handle the fact that I persist in pointing out logical fallacies, but they seem to be moving toward building personal vendettas against me.

These are not admonishments that I take lightly, as there is plenty of evidence that there are many people who have endeavored to engage me in discussion who do not have the ability to handle those who persist in defending facts which challenge their world views. There have been some rude, inappropriate and downright disturbing things said directly to me, to others about me, and even statements that indicate intentions to bring harm to my person.

I'm no stranger to death threats. I have received them quite often since I began speaking publicly regarding atheism and critical thinking. Sadly, there are many people in the U.S. - the land of the free which endeavors to have separation of church and state (although not always succeeding) - who will threaten the lives of those who speak out against their superstitious beliefs in much the same way that extremist Muslims and members of Al Qaeda do in Middle Eastern countries.

Those who do not directly threaten the lives of those who disagree with them do things that are almost as bad. Whether through character assassination, dwelling on a person's past mistakes and/or shortcomings, libel, slander, or just good old-fashioned exclusion and/or discriminatory behavior (or combinations thereof) these methods of expressing hostility and/or hatred of those who do not share their views or speak out against those views is anything but that of an evolved, intelligent human being.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to those who are religious and dislike those of other religions or without religions. It also occurs when people lack the tolerance for others who do not share their political views or who do not share their attachment to popular opinion, which often is not supported by facts or even solid reasoning.

Fortunately, I have many friends with whom I can "agree to disagree". We are able to discuss our differences and occasionally learn a thing or two from one another. We are friends and remain friendly despite the fact that we do not always agree on the issues we discuss.

However, there are those who are not able to achieve this balance, and for them, it simply is not tolerable for anyone to persist as strongly as they do in stating their case. It seems that the person with the weaker argument usually grows tired of their failed attempts to bully the other person into agreeing with them, and the end result is that they resort to personal attacks, profanity, or in extreme cases pathological hatred moving toward violence or premeditated plans thereof.

Unfortunately, even though this is 2011, there are many males in this world who simply can not handle outspoken females who disagree with them and/or "show them up" in any way. It's a very fragile ego that suffers from this deficiency, but I have found since moving back to "the bible belt" that there are more of these types in the south than I recall encountering in any other part of the country where I have lived and/or worked.

Since I began actively participating in social networking groups, I have endeavored not to block anyone simply because they disagree with me, even if they at times become disrespectful. I understand that many issues we discuss are very emotionally hot topics, and we all have times when we allow ourselves to get carried away.

Lately, however, there have been individuals who have become so pathologically irate at the fact that I am not willing to back down from my statements any more than they are that they seem to have converted me in their minds from merely someone with strong and differing opinions from their own into something of an enemy.

Why anyone would find me so off-putting or annoying and yet wouldn't block ME from THEIR social network is beyond me. It seems that there must be some sort of emotional gratification extracted from whatever exchanges they have with me or they wouldn't continue to engage in them. Yet still, the hateful comments (none of which I have reciprocated) seem to have become something of a hobby for a few people.

Behind the scenes, information has come to light that has necessitated some protective action on my behalf, and it isn't just an isolated person and/or issue. As a result, I have had to re-examine my view and have now reached the conclusion that there are people who must be excluded from my online social circles if only because they themselves seem to be affected in an unhealthy way by their interactions with me.

Social networking is, in my view, supposed to be enjoyable, educational, and fulfilling for all involved. Sometimes it isn't all of those things, but when it becomes tainted with negativity and grade-school level behavior, those elements must be removed in order for the value of the group to be maintained.

It makes me sad to have to do it, but now that I have learned of several separate situations where people are reacting in extremely negative ways to my relentless refusal to be silenced simply because they don't like what I am saying, I feel that there is no viable alternative.

I will close by saying that I don't tolerate double standards. Anyone who thinks that I am too persistent in my arguments against them should consider that if they weren't equally as persistent, the conversation would have no where to go. It is not acceptable for one person to belt out their points and then criticize another for having a rebuttal to those points.

In other words: If you can't take it, don't dish it out.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Writer's Write (And Bloggers Blog...)

It's been a few weeks since I announced that my new book "Sister America Goes To Prison: A Memoir" will be available for purchase on Amazon on February 16th of next year. There have been some family matters that have taken my attention away from promoting the book over the past several weeks, including the recent Thanksgiving celebration, but I'm looking forward to the radio interviews and other speaking engagements scheduled over the next few months and I hope to connect with others who share my concern over the parts of our system that simply aren't working.

Since I made the initial announcement, I have had several people contact me privately and share their own experiences with the U.S. penal system. As I know many of my friends were shocked to learn that I had spent time in prison, many of the people who have contacted me that I have known since childhood and reconnected with recently have left me equally surprised that they have been to jail or prison as well. It's not something many people know, but they choose to share it with me. That lets me know that there is a need for more information to be shared about issues related to incarceration, and that there is a shortage of people willing to talk about it publicly because there is so much shame associated with having been incarcerated.

This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this book - not only to give others who have been down the same road as I someone to relate to with regard to the many hidden struggles we "ex-convicts/ex-cons" face, but also to help those who will hopefully never see the inside of a jail or prison understand that there is a veritable mix of non-violent, societal contributors (albeit imperfect and not without errors in judgment) locked up at this moment, their incarceration which neither benefits or protects society in any way whatsoever. Clearly their crimes must be dealt with, but there exists a more intelligent and socially responsible way to do so, and it is through providing details of what one has seen that others may become aware of just how much money and how many lives are wasted and why we truly must do something to change what is quickly becoming a "prison nation".

There have been cynical people who have made comments that because there is money involved in the selling of a book that I am just "trying to get rich". What is laughable about that theory is that it is not unusual for authors to net about five cents an hour after all expenses are paid and the publishers get their cut. What's left isn't much. Sometimes it's not even enough to cover the expenses associated with writing a book (paper, software, computer, etc.)

I would love to write for a living, but thus far, I have had to supplement my meager writing income with things ranging from pizza delivery to app development and programming. If an opportunity comes up to participate in a think tank for pay, I take it. If someone needs a caretaker or babysitter, I do that. I also provide freelance grantwriting services and occasionally land a non-profit management consulting contract. I survive, and surviving allows me to continue doing what I enjoy the most.

Few authors ever make it to the national best seller's list, and many never even sell enough books to make writing a book any more lucrative than a minimum-wage-paying job. Why, then, do people write books? Are we all just playing the odds, hoping we will be one of the lucky few who manage to rise to the top?

For me, it's not about fame or fortune. I'm far too realistic for that to be a motivating factor. The reason behind all of my writing - be it blogging, books, or even social status updates, is to share my thoughts so I may connect with others, and to inspire others to embrace critical thinking and the logical conclusions to which it leads with regard to the many problems we face in our world.

There are those who believe our society to be so cynical that most people can not be motivated to action regarding this issue. These people often ask me whether or not I really think writing this book will make a difference, or whether any of the blogs and social status updates I post are worth the time and effort they require. My answer has always been that, yes, I do. However, over the past year that yes has become more of an "ABSOLUTELY!".

Last year, I began speaking on both internet radio talk shows and local A.M. & F.M. frequency radio talk shows about atheism. I also began blogging more about some of the issues that have come up for me personally as an atheist, and more recently, I have been sharing my views with my social networking groups.

Often, there will be severe opposition to anything I post promoting atheism, especially if it disputes what a religious person has come to believe. People don't respond well to having their world view challenged, and atheism definitely challenges the world view of many superstitious people.

Sometimes things get ugly, with those who do not like what I have to say using profanity and calling me names, and I've had more than a few death threats over the past year from radio listeners in the East Tennessee area in response to speaking about atheism and the nature of religion on local radio programs.

Often, when people are engaging me in a debate on the topic and I am able to invalidate what they are claiming and/or show that the case for skepticism stands up perfectly under scrutiny, they get frustrated with me. "Know-it-all" is a common term used to describe those who refuse to cow down to pseudo-intellectual bullies. (Those who respond to logic with emotional, irrational outbursts of frustration stemming from not being able to get us to blindly swallow their arguments without evidence, or even in the presence of evidence to the contrary.)

This is when many of my well-meaning friends will say "Angie, give it a rest. It's a waste of time." Even though many of them agree with me regarding the subject under discussion, they themselves do not understand why I continue to spar intellectually with people who don't seem to have the emotional maturity to engage in a true debate, much less grasp what is being discussed. And here is where I reveal something that many of you may not realize:

Over the past year, there have been no less than 137 people who live mostly in the southeastern United States who have privately contacted me after reading some of these exchanges to discuss their true feelings regarding religion and to confess that they do not believe there is any supernatural deity in control of this world. They know that I will not "out" them, and they know that I understand their dilemmas and what it's like to be a non-superstitious person in a world that promotes and rewards superstition and often punishes critical thinking.

These people have, for the first time in their lives, reached out to someone to speak the truth about what they believe. Many of them have known all of their lives that they do not believe, and have struggled between the logic that tells them something doesn't make sense and the fear which has been instilled in their minds. They are constantly at war inside, and many develop severe anxiety issues and other psychological maladies that might otherwise not have manifested. When they see that I am willing to boldly dispute unfounded claims presented as indisputable truths, they often tell me that they feel they have found "sanctuary" (a place for refuge and protection) from the religious zealots who seem to come at them from all angles. Truly, I understand where they are coming from, as there are religious forces in this world that threaten to strangle out any and all voices but their own.

I don't know that anything I have ever written has ever changed anyone's mind about anything. I do know that things I have written have given people the courage to fully embrace what they already believed and knew deep within themselves all along, but were bullied into stifling and pretending otherwise. That is reason enough for me to endure the bullying, the profanity, the name-calling, the death threats, the ostracizing, and everything else that goes along with speaking out against the status quo, even if the status quo has become "speaking out" against things that aren't really to blame for the problems we won't take responsibility for ourselves. I spar with those people as well.

Interestingly enough, I have connected with some pastors and clergy members who openly admit that they do not believe in heaven or hell, or even in a god in the supernatural sense. It is truly inspiring to see that people who have invested their lives in ministering to their communities through religion are able to embrace the truth as they see it and remind people that figurative meanings are just as powerful (if not more so) than any literal meanings found in scripture. Here are some articles for those who are interested:

The Morning Bulletin: Priest Doesn't Believe In God

Newsweek: Non-Believing Clergy

BBC News: Dutch Rethink Christianity For A Doubtful World

This is a world in which we are often pressured by the cast of characters in a societal play to speak and behave in ways which none of us truly believes is authentic. It's as though a spell has been cast on humanity, and the only way to break the spell is to provide access to those who are willing and able to defy it.

You may be surprised to learn that someone as outspoken as I often am on the subject is not critical of those who choose to say "in the closet". On the contrary, I am all too aware of what is at stake for many people. Careers are ruined, marriages ended, families torn apart, and social circles fragmented over things such as this. For some, the cost is acceptable, for others, it is not.

I do not have children I must worry about getting bullied by religious classmates at school. I do not have to worry about losing my job since I am self-employed (although undoubtedly I get few clients who are religious and know that I am a non-theist). I do not have to worry about my constituents refusing to vote for me because of a lack of superstitious beliefs. There are people who have too much to lose by refusing to play along. I have little to lose, and I feel that it is important that those of us who can do so speak out not only for ourselves, but on behalf of those who do not find this world safe enough to allow the openness that we all should be able to enjoy.

There are many believers who do not consider themselves to be "religious". There are religious people who are not zealots. Even these people often feel oppressed by those who take religion to an extreme, and I have had many of these people message me privately after reading my exchanges with some of those who engage in zealotry and tell me that, while they are believers, they are appalled at the behavior of some of their fellow-Christians and think I'm not getting treated fairly and that they enjoy reading what I have to say. That tells me that even among religious people there is a need for someone to stand up to the extremists.

I often mention "Christians" when discussing religious extremists, because there are many Christians in this country who behave as American Christian versions of Al Qaeda. They may not have plans to kill anyone, and many of the extremist Muslims do not either, but these militant Christians do declare that everyone else is wrong for not allowing them the privelege of being the only voice when it comes to seasonal holiday celebrations, often getting very angry at those who choose to remain secular in their greetings and refusing to acknowledge that their religion hijacked older holidays, not the other way around.

And then there is this very disturbing information, which made me shudder when I digested it:

I truly have a desire to share information and give as many people as possible the chance to be free of the shackles that the world puts on us through fear, intimidation, and lies. It matters not to me that they may believe their own lies. They are still potentially very dangerous, and they need to be confronted. If that means that some of my friends become annoyed at reading my relentless counter-arguments to those who continue to insist that their faith-based declarations are true and must be accepted or else one will suffer life in the eternal lake of fire, then so be it.

It isn't the people I'm sparring with who are the intended beneficiaries of the debate. It is the people sitting quietly in front of their computers, tablets, or smartphones who dare not reveal themselves who are taking it all in and trying to gather the courage to shake off the heavy chains of delusion that weigh so many down in this one life that we know for a fact we have to live.