Weird and Wonderful Summer Cocktails -Friday Fun

I was in Dallas a few weeks ago, and stayed at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown (beautiful old grand hotel, by the way). After dinner that night, I stopped by the bar with my sobs, and ordered a Cucumber Cranberry Mojito.

I know. Sounds weird, but it turned out to be refreshing and flavorful. And I’m the one known at my local sushi bar to “hold the cukes on everything.” pretty, no? Kitty wondered if they could fit anything else in the glass!



Good for Nothing

We all have our “catch phrases”.  Obama is going to “never rest” until a problem is done, which means he’s probably going to be awfully tired.  Santa says, “ho ho ho” instead of “ha ha ha” when he’s laughing.  When I was very young, my friends and I would say “Dy-no-mite!” for no particular reason other than we heard it on TV.

There is one “catch phrase” I am known for.  “Atheists are good for nothing”. It just slipped out one day during a good old forum chat argument.  “Since atheists don’t believe in God, why behave in a moral fashion?” was the question.  My answer was simply “Atheists are good for nothing”.  Ever since, that phrase has been associated with me.

Sadly, even though atheists are for the most part critical thinkers, many people do not take the time to understand what I mean. I had to take the phrase out of my signature line on the JREF forum to keep some atheists from private messaging me about how I was “insulting” them.

Perhaps it is because I am known as not being an atheist that people suspect me when I say “Atheists are good for nothing”.  I have two atheist children, 90% of my friends are atheists, I belong to several groups that support atheists (because I feel there is great intolerance for atheists and everyone need to be supportive in getting rid of this prejudice), and even James Randi himself says it’s OK for me to hang with the JREF crowd. I enjoy being the “token” believer, and there is even a small group of non-atheists skeptics that have “infiltrated “ TAM and other skeptic events. The thing most atheist skeptics don’t know is that most “believer” skeptics think comments from Hitchens and Dawkins are small potatoes compared to how we have been treated by our fellow “believers”.  I’ve been informed I am NOT going to heaven more than a few times since among other things God is so angry at me about that whole accepting homosexuality as simply part of the interesting variety of life. The special corner of hell occupied by Charles Darwin has a chair for me since I believe in evolution.  I have been told I’m going to be damned because I dye my hair and wear pants a lot. The list of what I do “wrong” to a fundamentalist believer is much longer than the list of what I “think wrong” to the average skeptic. People asked me at TAM if I was upset by what Richard Dawkins and other atheists were saying.  I felt like saying “Look as long as he’s OK with me wearing pants, he’s got nothing on my fundie neighbor!”

What does hurt me though is when people I care about do not understand what I really mean by “Atheists are good for nothing”.  So here is the history.  I have a storybook that my grandmother gave me, called the “Giant Story Book” which she found it in the attic of the old house she lived in. The book is dated 1890.  I loved reading the stories as a child, and there was one little poem we both especially liked.  It is by Mary Wyatt.

Good for Nothing

“Just look at these pennies,” said roguish Dan

To his sturdy companion Roy;

“My mother gives me a penny a day

Whenever I’ve been a good boy”

“I wouldn’t be paid just for being good,”

Said Roy, with a toss of his head;

“I’d just as soon, and a little rather,

Be good for nothing,” he said

I was never paid for “good grades”.  A lot of my friends got so much for a B, more money for an A.  They got paid if they got enough gold stars on a chart, or if they walked the dog every day.  The joke was that I had to be “good for nothing”. I never paid my own children for doing well at school.  I wanted them to know they were doing well for their own welfare, not mine.  I just wanted to pass on to my children that being “good for nothing” was really just being good because it’s the right thing to do.  It really means in the end  being “good for yourself”.  You will be happier and more successful if you decide it is worth being good simply because you know it’s the right thing to do.  If you are only good for gain, you stand to lose everything.

When I say “Atheists are good for nothing”, I mean it as my highest compliment.  It’s how I was raised and how I raised my children.  It’s something I admire in almost every atheist I know.

Jolly Good Fellows

Swiping magazines from doctor’s offices is a hobby of mine. My ophthalmologist keeps Science in his waiting room, which seems to be overlooked for all the copies of various fishing magazines and People. During my last visit, I found a short blurb in the May 28, 2010 issue, called “Jolly Good Fellows”, in the column Random Samples, edited by Kelli Whitlock Burton.

The article states that “the 19 inaugural Canadian Excellence Research Chairs announced this week all have two things in common: They’re all illustrious scientists. And they’re all men. In fact, not a single woman was even nominated.”

According to the piece, this Canadian group has a goal of awarding $10 million over the next seven years to the universities who nominated the recipient. It states that 41 universities nominated a total of 135 candidates, which were narrowed down to the 19 winners located at 17 schools. None of the nominees were women.

A government panel determined that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the selection process but implemented changes for the next round (seven years from now) to have separate awards for mid-career scientists, and to include reports on how the universities selected their nominaees. The presidents of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, and the National Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (also a woman) served on the panel.

Science can be accessed online at Science.

Religious People, Part I

My dad left home at 17 to join the Air Force. To the best my knowledge, he never set foot in church again, save for rare ceremonial events. He’s not said much about his religion in his home, other than he was never allowed to go to movies on Sundays. His mother was a blue-haired Southern Baptist lady, the kind who talked about Jesus and used the N-word, often in the same conversation.

I don’t remember much about my grandmother:  she made banana pudding for me, didn’t trim the fat off her pot roast before she ate it (which completely grossed out my brother and me),  was equally passionate about her church and her soap operas, and never invited her daughter-in-law, my mother, to address her as anything other than “Mrs. Baker.” One of the few things I remember her saying to me was “I guess you probably like your other grandmother better.”  I’m not sure how an 8-year-old is supposed to respond to that.

Looking back, I think I can best describe her as sour.  Mentally, I put her face on the persona of my ex-husband Mark’s grandmother, Nana, who I actually knew for a much longer time than I knew my dad’s mother. Nana was about the same age and background, albeit with slightly less blue in her hair. Nana was a sour, bitter old woman who was extremely proud of believing in the One Truth Religion, and who used the N-word a lot.  John the Baptist founded Christianity, don’t you know, and God handed down the King James Bible.

Nana, the fine lady that she was, could hold grudges for decades.  One story is that she had been mad at her sister for so long that she couldn’t remember the reason, and the sister died without ever being reconciled.  She later got mad at her son, my ex’s uncle, because she wanted to visit for several weeks and Curtis couldn’t take that much time off work to entertain his mother.  Nana pouted, and didn’t speak for Curtis for several weeks, who in the meantime had a heart attack and died.  At Christmas times, she would sit in the corner, refusing to participate in the festivities, thereby causing everyone to pet her, offer her special goodies, ply her with gifts, and try to make her the center of attention, so that she could sniff and proclaim that Christmas wasn’t any good anymore, since everyone had died.  Thankfully, her only grandson (my ex) and her only great-grandchildren, my sons, didn’t take as much offense to that as I did.  I was as polite to her as I could be, out of respect for my husband, as well as to keep the peace.  Also, I had a secret power over her in that I didn’t really give a shit if she were mad at me:  she would start longing to talk to my children, and eventually have to break down and be the first to call.

She liked to drop loving comments to me such as  “Mark was really close to us until you came along. If it weren’t for you, Mark would visit us more often.”  She didn’t know that Mark told me that, upon walking out for the last time to head for college,  he would never EVER set foot in the house again. Being close to my parents and having wonderful grandparents, I was aghast, and spent years of our marriage accepting dinner invitations to his family’s home and then dragging him over to spend time with them. He would fall asleep or read the paper, leaving me with the duties of conversation. Growing up with Nana a constant presence in his life, he refused to set foot in a Baptist church. Nana was the type that, when she inherited a tidy sum of money from her brother (someone she still spoke to, apparently), she wrote her daughter Betty a $10,000 check and her son-in-law, $20.  Point made. She was viciously cruel to Betty.  If my MIL could be believed, Nana told her that if Curtis died while serving as a Marine in WWII, it would be Betty’s fault since she sometimes went dancing. Which God hates. There wasn’t a wet eye at her funeral.

What does this have to do with religious people?  These two women are typical of the type. Smug in the superiority of their belief, while taking delight in speculating on the eternal hellfire that their enemies will suffer.  Not all believers are like this – I know that. My maternal grandmother was the sweetest, kindest, most gentle woman that I have ever known, her grandchildren worshiped her, and I still wish I could crawl into her lap. I really miss her. I have very dear friends who are religious. But the dogma and documents and institutions that nurture someone like my beloved grandmother, also turn out Nanas.  For those who want to excuse the excesses of foaming fundamentalists, saying ‘they aren’t real Christians’, I say:  They get their hate from the same book you say preaches love.  There are ten thousand different sects, and they can’t all be right. My loving believer friends would be equally loving and good without their religion.

From the introduction to Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris:

Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generaly imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible.  How do I know this?  The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.

I just noticed, as I dug through my copy to write out the quote above, that someone had stuck a tract into the middle of the book, titled “Why You Can Trust the Bible.”  I don’t know if it was stuck in there by someone trolling the bookstore (I’ve owned and given away several copies of this book), or if it was inserted by someone I had loaned this copy to.  The amusing bit is that the tract is from The Watchtower, by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that the King James Bible was translated incorrectly.  The irony is not lost on me.


From the time we left London, it was grey skies and drizzling rain. After a lunch of Mussels in Camembert sauce, fries, and a bottle of cider, we drove up winding coastal roads, through villages that saw American troops fighting hand to hand against the Germans: Longues sur Mer, Bessin, Courselles sur Mer. The rain halted briefly as we arrived at the American Cemetery, which had a new visitors center since my last visit, full of emotional displays and film clips.

I also pulled into a road cider “degustation” to try the local Calvados, which turned out to be the same cave I’d stopped at with my sons three years ago.

We then drove into the center of Bayeux and pulled into the first non/chain hotel I saw, which was the Hotel d’Argouges, built in 1732, Michelin rated, and beautiful, with gardens and paths. We walked through town and found the museum of the Bayeux Tapestry, which I had read about 40 years ago .

A short walk brought us near the town’s cathedral with its common story of being founded in 600 CE, burned, and rebuilt. The current version is dark and seriously need of cleaning, the beautiful architecture being masked by centuries of filth.

Arriving in London

Janet and Eric at a small sandwich shop near Parliament. We’ve only been here a few hours and are trying to get our bearings

An Amazing Breakfast

One morning this week, during our cruise through the Mexican Riviera, my friends Kitty, Susan (wife of Robert Lancaster aka and I were enjoying breakfast when Randi wandered by, claiming to be on the hunt for rich widows. None of us qualified, but he decided that, in a pinch, we would do, and joined us. As is usual with Randi, he held court, and shared stories of his adventures. However, the breakfast was amazing in that we actually got w word in edgewise! Most of the meal was spent making fun of the truly awful stage magician we had seen on the ship earlier in the week. Randi sat on the front row, unnoticed by “LaRaf”, surrounded by his entourage. Many of our group are either amateur magicians or have seen enough of Randi’s demonstrations to know what to look for during a show, and even I was able to see the set-ups. As we exited the theater for dinner, we decided that being appalled really works up an appetite.