Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inside the Mind of a Tea Bagger

My first attempt at a comic…

Inside the Mind of a Tea Bagger

Atheism and Morality – UNC Charlotte 2/20/2008

I gave a one hour presentation entitled “Atheism and Morality” last night at UNC Charlotte to an audience of about 42 people. It went pretty well despite not being able to show my PowerPoint slides due to technical problems. The audience participated throughout and asked plenty of good questions at the end. I received some very positive comments afterwards as well as even more questions.

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Atheists Can’t Hold Office in North Carolina?

I got a call last week from Tim Funk, a reporter for the Charlotte Observer’s “Faith and Values” section. He discovered that the North Carolina constitution contained a section which states: “the following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God”. I’m mentioned briefly at the end of the article.

He asked me if I was aware of this section of the constitution and I said “no, but I’m not surprised”. So far as he could tell, nobody has ever challenged it in court. It seems that a prominent North Carolina Catholic was responsible for getting the language of the consitution changed in order to allow Catholics and other “believers in Almighty God” to serve as well.

Link to article.

My Experience at the 2007 Atheist Alliance Convention

Me and Richard Dawkins

The 2007 Atheist Alliance International convention in Washington, DC did not disappoint. The biggest names were all there including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and more. The recent rise of the so called “New Atheism” was clearly evident when the convention sold out within weeks. Previous conventions attracted no more than 200 people, while this year’s event had 500 attendees with 600 people on the waiting list.

After a short fundraising event on Thursday evening, the convention got started on Friday night with hosts Margaret Downey, Herb Silverman and Bill Creasy and featured a hilarious appearance from “Pastor” Deacon Fred from the Landover Baptist Church. Next, Richard Dawkins took the stage with a very enthusiastic reception. I overheard some criticism that he didn’t seem to tailor his presentation for the all atheist audience instead pulling remarks from previous talks and writings. In his defense, he did give us an interesting glimpse of his experiences since releasing The God Delusion.

Sam Harris followed and what he said had everybody talking about it the next day. He basically started out saying that, since everyone in the audience was pretty much in agreement with his arguments, he could just throw some “red meat to the lions” or he could talk about the things where he might disagree with the audience. Of course, he chose the latter. He dedicated the first half of his talk to the idea that we shouldn’t call ourselves atheists. He claims that using the label of atheist is a liability and hinders our ability to get our message heard. The mood of the room started to shift a bit during this part. I think most people thought this point was too idealistic and that we have to have some label to organize under.

Sam’s final point concerned the exploration of meditation and contemplation that he touched on in The End of Faith. He basically tried to make his case that we should take seriously the study of meditation and critically study its possible benefits to human happiness and not simply dismiss it just because the practice has historically been pursued mainly by religious followers. At this point, the air was pretty much leaving the room. All in all, I completely respect Sam Harris even more for telling people what they may not have wanted to hear. He proved to me that he’s not in this to win a popularity contest, but instead to honestly explore the best possible solution to the negative effects of religious faith. Read the transcript of Sam Harris’ speech and see what you think.

Saturday was a whirlwind of events. After attending a session on handling the media and secular parenting, I ran into our fellow Charlotte atheist Joseph Stewart for lunch which was then followed by a 6 hour block of speakers. First up was Eddie Tabash who gave a very sobering talk about the threat of the religious right. One of the main points he stressed was the importance of the Supreme Court in the fight to maintain the separation of church and state. He also stressed that it’s important which senators we elect since they have the power to confirm Supreme Court judges.

To help lighten the mood of the room, Eugenie Scott next gave a spirited recounting of the “Intelligent Design” trial in Dover, PA. As an active participant in the trial, she was able to give us the inside details of the case. The highlight was when she led us through the “evolution” of the book Of Pandas and People used by the Creationists over the years. She clearly showed how all references to “Creation” were replaced with “Intelligent Design” after losing a landmark court case in 1987. She reminded us that the Dover trial was an even bigger victory because not only did they prove that teaching ID in school was unconstitutional (which was all they had to do to “win”), they went even further to prove that ID wasn’t science.

A surprise hit at the conference was Matthew Chapman who is the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. Matthew works in Hollywood and has written or co-written several successful movies including Consenting Adults and Runaway Jury. He’s written several articles about the Dover trial and ended up writing a book about it called 40 Days and 40 Nights – Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin and Other Oddities. He was the first person to bring up the topic of women and religion. He thinks the final step in the feminist movement is for women to change and/or renounce all remaining religious traditions that view men as dominant over women. He also made an interesting connection between how a country/government takes care of its citizens and the effect this has on how much people rely on religion. He argues that a country that provides basic needs to its people (such as universal health care, etc.) will create a more happy and healthy citizenry that will be less likely to rely on religion.

After a short break and a security sweep of the room, Ayaan Hirsi Ali took the stage and charmed everyone with her articulate and soft spoken recount of her experiences growing up as a Muslim in Somalia. After being forced to marry, she fled to the Netherlands and obtained refugee status, went to university and eventually won a seat in the Dutch Parliament. After a script she wrote called Submission (which criticizes the treatment of women in Islam) was made into a movie, the director was murdered. A note was left at the scene saying that she was next, so she now travels with security wherever she goes. Her description of life as a Muslim woman was both fascinating and frightening. When asked what can be done about it, she indicated that some women are trying to change the system from within, but, for her, the only solution was remove herself from that world. She said that the cognitive dissonance of maintaining the Muslim faith was too much for her to handle and she cites dissonance as the main tool for defeating fundamentalism of all types.

Christopher Hitchens was the last speaker and he didn’t disappoint. It was classic Hitchens. After a fairly short set of remarks, he decided (since he could “feel the solidarity”) to just open up the floor for questions. Rather than me trying to describe it for you, I would suggest watching a clip of it online if you can find it. The evening culminated with a banquet and an award ceremony for Daniel Dennett.

By Sunday morning, I think everyone was still reeling from all the previous day’s events and a certain lack of sleep. Margaret Downey presented an interesting session about the importance of secular celebrations. Margaret, in addition to being president of Atheist Alliance International and coordinator of the AAI convention, is a recognized Secular Humanist Officiant and performs non-religious unions for couples who want a ceremony without any references to God. In many states there is something called a “Self-Uniting Marriage License” which allows marriages to be recognized without a member of the clergy officiating. Apparently, many of the county clerks who issue marriage licenses don’t understand self-uniting licenses and often will deny atheists/agnostics from getting them. Margaret has taken on this issue and works with atheist couples to insure that their rights are not denied. For more information, visit

The last event before the closing ceremony was a Welcome to the World / Secular Naming Ceremony for the twin daughters of Matt and Shannon Cherry. PBS was on hand to film the event. Margaret Downey lead the ceremony which included a poem read by Matt, naming of the children’s mentors, readings from relatives and even some brief words from Richard Dawkins (lucky kids!).

In between the Sunday events, I was able to talk to Daniel Dennett briefly. He remembered the radio show that we did together back in January. I thanked him for all of the insights I received from his books and other writings.

I also managed to meet my hero Richard Dawkins. Of all the big names there, Richard Dawkins was one of the most visible and could be seen walking amongst the crowd throughout the convention. When I saw a good opportunity, I walked up to him, introduced myself and told him about the Charlotte Atheists group. He was kind enough to have a picture made with me. Before I let him go, I thanked him for everything he’s done and told him that he was an inspiration for so many of us.

Overall, I had a great experience at my first atheist convention and I feel that it will take some time for it to all soak in. It was quite a feeling to be surrounded by that many freethinkers and to be able to tap complete strangers on the shoulder and have an instant bond with them. Although there were many reminders of the challenges we face ahead, it was nice to enjoy this moment in the sun if only for a short time.

Interesting Coincidence in Richmond, VA

On our way up to Washington, DC and the Atheist Alliance Convention, we stopped in Richmond, VA for lunch. After driving around the downtown area for a few minutes, we saw a good area with restaurants and parked the car. The first thing we noticed after getting out of the car were these huge murals about religious freedom.

First Freedom Mural 1 - Richmond, Va
First Freedom Mural 1 – Richmond, Va
First Freedom Mural 2 - Richmond, Va
First Freedom Mural 2 – Richmond, Va

It turns out they were put up by the First Freedom Center which is a non-profit organization whose goal is to promote religious freedom including the right to not believe.

My Appearance on the Charlotte Talks Radio Show

I recently appeared on our local radio show “Charlotte Talks” along with Daniel Dennett and Ellen Johnson to discuss the recent rise of Atheism. Mike Collins was the host.

To listen to the show, click the link below:

Charlotte Talks Radio Show – Atheism: Charlotte Talks is a local radio show hosted by Mike Collins. On January 31st, 2007, they did a show on Atheism and I appeared along with Daniel Dennett (Philospher and author) and Ellen Johnson (President of American Atheists).

Here is my write-up of the event:

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I’ve just completed the new web site for the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics group. It includes membership signup, event RSVP, discussion forums, links, books, news and more. Have a look at

Visiting a Game Auction at Winston-Salem

Me and my friend James took the short trip up to Winston-Salem to see a game auction.

We had a great time playing all the pinball machines there. Unfortunately, there was only 1 Electro-Mechanical pinball machine, an Amigo (see pictures). As we were trying to get it to work, somebody came by and gave us a hand. The machine was having trouble getting through its startup sequence. He was able to get it going after discovering a bad switch on one of the the player 4 score reels. Turns out this guy has been repairing pinball machines for 30 years…

Our favorite pinball was, by far, the Fireball Classic. (You can see it on the right side of the first picture) We were racking up tons of free games on it until our mojo ran out.

Luckily, I remembered to bring an extension cord. That way we could power up any game there. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring quarters!!! Not that we really needed them, but without them, we had to find and manually close the coin switch for each game. No problem really, but we got a good laugh out of it.

Bally Amigo Pinball MachineTons of Pinball MachinesJames Playing Cyclone

Pinball Auction, a set on Flickr.

Target Alpha Flyer From 1976

This is the original Target Alpha flyer from around 1976.
Target Alpha Flyer by Particle Man
Target Alpha Flyer, a photo by Particle Man on Flickr.


My First Pinball Machine: Target Alpha

Target Alpha Pinball MachineThis is my first pinball machine. I wanted an electro-mechanical machine from the mid 70’s and this one fit the bill perfectly. There is just something special about EM machines… simplicity, great look, mechanical sounds, real chimes, etc.

Manufacture by: D. Gottlieb & Co.
Date: November 1976, 4 players
Model number: 392
Production run: 7285
Theme: Outer Space
Design: Ed Krynsky
Art: Gordon Morison
Notes: A 4-Player version of Solar City, Convertible to Add-A-Ball

I’ll be posting more information later including pictures and small repairs I’ve done.