- Post-Election Bull Session
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. One week earlier than usual, to dodge around Thanksgiving. Since nobody will be talking about anything else after the 2020 election BUT the 2020 election, let’s just give in to reality and have a free-form discussion of how it all shook out. No program, no handouts, just open mic for any observations anyone feels like making.
- Classifying God Time
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. How do you spend your day? More generally, how do you spend your entire time on Earth? It’s possible to classify all your activities into a few broad categories: (1) basic biology (eating, drinking, sleeping, excreting, giving birth, dying) (2) productive (work, original thinking, household chores, shopping, arts and crafts, hobbies) (3) informative (including both learning and teaching) (4) enjoyable (examples too numerous to mention, but certainly including socializing) (5) restful (altho recreation would go under “enjoyable” rather than here) (6) useless (for example, waiting around for someone else to finish getting dressed) (7) awful (being tortured or persecuted; dealing with illness, injury, or loss; arguments and fights; being insulted or demeaned) Clearly, if you were to do a Venn diagram of these categories, there’d be quite a few overlapping circles. Kicking back with a good book, for instance, could be productive, informative, and enjoyable all at once. But ”useless” and “awful” seem to be off in a little corner of their own. If an activity could plausibly fall into one of the first 5 categories, it has to be useful to SOME extent. And, for all of the hyperbole about “work is hell” or “wage slavery”, does anybody seriously consider those to be awful in the same sense as a car wreck or a thumbscrew? (Altho, to be fair, ACTUAL slavery was both productive and awful.) The question before us tonight is how to classify “God time” — church attendance, prayer, rituals like baptism or saying the rosary, confession, auto-flagellation, etc. Are there any of these that don’t qualify as useless? Or perhaps awful? In free-form discussion, we’ll consider the first 5 categories above, one at a time, and talk about whether it could arguably include any of these “God time” activities.
- Conspiracy Theories
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. Conspiracy theories have been around forever. Did Jesus’s disciples steal his body? Did Jews bring the Black Death to Europe? Was America founded by a secret cabal of Freemasons? Is the Pentagon covering up its UFO evidence? Who really was behind JFK’s assassination? Was the Moon landing faked? Since Barack Obama was born in Kenya, is he a secret Muslim? Were the 9/11 attacks orchestrated from the Halliburton boardroom? It would be easier to scoff at these if it weren’t for the fact that we know actual conspiracies DO exist. There really was a plot to assassinate Lincoln. Crooks conspired on the Great Brink’s Robbery of 1981. Tobacco companies conspired to hide the link between smoking and lung cancer. The Reagan administration conspired to sell arms to Iran so the proceeds could be used to overthrow the Contra regime in Nicaragua. And, of course, the OFFICIAL explanation for 9/11 is itself a conspiracy theory. But let’s get up to date. A recent article in The Atlantic (“QAnon: Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming”) begins: “If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight. You know all this because you believe in Q.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/qanon-nothing-can-stop-what-is-coming/610567/) It later notes that QAnon is “a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values.” QAnon started out as a fringe movement and would probably still be one if it weren’t for the added credence it gets from the Conspiracist in Chief in the White House, as detailed by Fareed Zarkaria in his CNN special, “The Conspiracy Theories of Donald Trump”: https://youtu.be/zv5hOiR77bg A lot of these conspiracy theories have religious overtones or “dog whistle” code phrases aimed at the deeply held beliefs of their fundamentalist adherents. YouKnowWho was obviously appealing to this segment of the citizenry when he claimed to be “the Chosen One” — https://youtu.be/_JsAQj36gCU — and a whole lot of the QAnon followers sincerely believe that the guy doing the choosing was God Almighty. So what should our reaction as self-proclaimed skeptics be to this latest batch of conspiracy theories? After all, SHOULDN’T we be dubious about official explanations? What if there really IS a “deep state” that’s pulling all the strings behind the scenes? How would we know? Isn’t all the evidence being covered up?
- The Brand of Science and Why It Matters
The purpose of using marketing techniques is grounded in one of the cornerstones of communication: know your audience. Yet, in our efforts as a community to better understand public engagement and communication, we have overlooked the latent associations of both scientists and the public to science. The connections that both the public and scientists have to science are the building blocks for understanding the brand of science. Just as marketers carry out similar exercises to understand customers’ relationships with particular products or services, so to must science communication professionals understand these similar dynamics. This seminar will present original evidence on how the U.S. public and scientists think about the brand of science, and the way in which the scientific community can strategically think about these meanings. This event will be virtual | https://go.wisc.edu/z9b8kk Meeting ID:[masked] | Passcode:[masked]
- Words To Live By
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. We were watching this movie (“Book Club”, if you must know) in which one of the characters was signing up on a dating site and encountered a question about her “life motto”. It proved to be a stumper for her, but we immediately started thinking of words of wisdom we had encountered in our own lives. Skipping right past the very wisest words ever — “Yes, dear!” — there was a lot of jostling for second place. So we thot it would be interesting to get a bunch of folks in the same room and go round it (at least once) sharing our own personal words to live by. No real presentation this month, it’s more like an open-mic night. Your own words to live by needn’t be original with you or even particularly succinct. Maybe it’s a story or a poem or a song. Just something that resonated with you once and that you keep returning to as well worth remembering. If you wish, you may send a copy of your inspirational life motto to [masked] for projection on screen when your turn comes round. Here’s an example of a somewhat longer form that — who knows? — may become your own new watchwords on life: RULES FOR MEN 1. It's important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job. 2. It's important to have a woman who can make you laff. 3. It's important to have a woman whom you can trust and doesn't lie to you. 4. It's important to have a woman who is good in bed and likes to be with you. 5. It’s very, very important that these 4 women do not know each other.
- Deathbird + Discussion
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. Life. Death. Love. Madness. Environmentalism. Tragedy. What it means to be human. And an audacious reappraisal of one of our oldest myths. Harlan Ellison’s powerful, compelling, Hugo-winning novelet “The Deathbird” has them all! In a departure from the norm of food, drink, chit-chat, and a brief presentation on the month's topic, July’s Atheist Lounge will open promptly at 7 PM with a dramatic reading of “The Deathbird”, performed by a dozen volunteer actors from the local science-fiction fan community. During the presentation, only the readers' microphones will be live. We'll let the audience in on the action after that's over, in the form of a moderated discussion of the themes in the story. To minimize background noise, tho, the Zoom Master will keep most people muted except those who've raised their electronic hands in the Zoom chat box. Don't worry, we'll show you how it's done before the discussion gets rolling. NOTE: This presentation was scheduled well before anybody ever heard of coronavirus. No commentary on current events was intended or should be inferred.
- The Summer of Our Lives: Evolution and Shagging
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to everyone who has RSVPed before then. June is the traditional month for weddings, which, as Christian fundamentalists continually assure us, are required as part of God’s plan for the procreation of humanity. As is so often the case from such sources, this gets it laffably backward. Left to our own impulses, we humans would breed like bunnies, starting as soon as puberty sets in and keeping it up as long as, well, we could keep it up. The main thing that marriage does is slow the whole process down, as the participants are expected to take the time to jump thru various socially imposed hoops before they can get to the fun part. And even then it’s not just welcome to all, ahem, comers; oh no, you’re supposed to stick to just the Biblically approved arrangement. And, according to the TBs’ favorite piece of fanfic, based on the practices of Solomon (wisest man of antiquity and much beloved of Yahweh), that’s strictly limited to one man and no more than 700 wives and 300 concubines. So, since God is supposed to be all-powerful and could just make as many people as he wants any time he feels like it, why did he set up this fascinating process of needing nooky to propagate the species — a process which, by amazing coincidence, is what every other vertebrate on the planet also uses? Fortunately, the complete story is available in “How God Invented Sex”, a 13-minute animated video from DarkMatter2525: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdKzpV7sa10 You are encouraged to watch the video ahead of the discussion, which will get into a cost-benefit analysis of sexual vs. asexual reproduction, the proper place of sex in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how religions establish and maintain control over people by making them feel dirty about what everybody knows they all do all the time. The Atheist Lounge will tackle these questions on, as usual, the last Thursday of the month. The Zoom meeting will start at 7 PM with a short presentation, and there'll be plenty of open discussion after that.
- Shadow Network
THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL MEETING CONDUCTED OVER ZOOM!!! Our May program will be based on the 2019 book "Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right", by Anne Nelson. It describes a web of interconnected organizations working largely out of public view to influence America in the direction of Christianity, entrepreneurialism, and libertarianism. Coordinating all of these disparate groups is the Council for National Policy, which doesn’t operate EXACTLY like a corporate board of directors calling all the shots but which certainly does expect most of its followers to fall into line with its top-down decision-making. A list of the book’s chapters provides some sense of its scope: (1) In the Beginning: Texas; (2) The Birth of the CNP: Washington; (3) Lords of the Air: The CNP’s Media Empire; (4) The News Hole in the Heart of America; (5) Money People; (6) Fishers of Men: Electoral Stratagems; (7) Ideology 101: The CNP’s Campus Partners; (8) Koch, DeVos, Soros: Donors, Politics, and Pastors; (9) The Obama Challenge; (10) Data Wars; (11) The Art of the Deal: New York, June 21, 2016; (12) “The Miracle”; (13) Midterms; and (14) “Democracy in America”. In her introduction, Nelson give us a dramatis personae divided into categories: the fundamentalists, the political operatives, the media, the money, heads of organizations, and technology strategists. As atheists, we are probably most concerned with the ways in which the shadow network is being used to advance the cause of Christian Dominionism in what’s supposed to be a pluralistic democracy, but we ignore all of their fellow travelers at our own peril. Nonetheless, tonight’s program will concentrate on the shadow network’s religious agenda, which ironically uses techniques derived from hard-headed rationalism to promote its totally irrational agenda. It’s not necessary to have read the book in advance, but it wouldn’t hurt. And it’s worth your while. For a quicker read, check out the 2017 article from The Daily Kos: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/3/19/1645081/-The-Vast-Right-Wing-Conspiracy-is-real-and-it-is-called-the-Council-for-National-Policy The Atheist Lounge will tackle this subject on, as usual, the last Thursday of the month at 7 PM, beginning with a short presentation, followed by plenty of moderated open discussion after that. NOT as usual, however, we'll be conducting it over Zoom. We'll send out a link to the meeting around noon on the 28th to everyone who's RSVPed before then.
HISTORICAL ANECDOTE from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_1504_lunar_eclipse) On 30 June 1503, Christopher Columbus beached his two last caravels and was stranded in Jamaica. The indigenous people of the island welcomed Columbus and his crew and fed them, but after six months, the natives halted the food supply. Columbus had on board an almanac authored by Abraham Zacuto of astronomical tables covering the years 1475–1506. Upon consulting the book, he noticed the date and the time of an upcoming lunar eclipse. He was able to use this information to his advantage. He requested a meeting for that day with the Cacique, the leader, and told him that God was angry with the local people's treatment of Columbus and his men. Columbus said God would provide a clear sign of displeasure by making the rising full Moon appear "inflamed with wrath". The lunar eclipse and the red Moon appeared on schedule, and the indigenous people were impressed and frightened. The son of Columbus, Ferdinand, wrote that the people “... with great howling and lamentation ... came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them”. Columbus went into his cabin to pray and timed the eclipse with his hourglass, and shortly before the totality ended after 48 minutes, he told the frightened indigenous people that they were going to be forgiven. When the Moon started to reappear from the shadow of the Earth, he told them that God had pardoned them. SCIENCE! Today, of course, we understand how and why eclipses work, so we’re not easily flummoxed by them. They ARE still pretty impressive, tho, and this month we’ll learn more about them from Madison Skeptics co-founder John Rummel, an ardent amateur astronomer. Due to you-know-what, we’ll be doing it via Zoom, an on-line video-conferencing tool. Get a head start on knowing how to use Zoom by downloading a pictorial explanation from: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/lfa0z5u5dwug9p5/AAAg5gqbV7b9ykjlRS1ArR3La?dl=0 Around noon on Thu. Apr. 30 we’ll send out the Zoom link to everybody who’s RSVPed for this event. Click on that link at 7:00 PM to join the conference. PERTINENT QUOTATIONS "I’ll tell you why [God exists], in my opinion. All right? Tide goes in. Tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that." —Bill O'Reilly (1949- ) American right-wing TV personality, The O’Reilly Factor, 2011 Jan. 4 "I do not believe in putting out the sun to keep weeds from growing." —Robert Green Ingersoll [masked]) “The Great Agnostic” "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings." —Victor J. Stenger [masked]) American physicist, philosopher, and atheist "When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set." —Lin Yutang [masked]) writer and translator