Thursday, March 18, 2010

Skepticality, Skeptoid

I brush off the legal gray cells in my brain.

Skepticality this week featured an interview by Swoopy of Sean Faircloth of the Secular Coalition of America, a former ten year veteran of the Maine legislature and successor to Lori Lipman Brown a recurring guest of Skepticality's past.

The show opened with Swoopy lamenting the new history standards of Texas being too right wing, and then a brief this week in skeptical history by Tim Farley.  Farley explained where the JREF came up with the name, at least in part, for their "Swift" newsletter.

Faircloth is taking the Secular Coalition into a new direction helping to pay for chaplins at every campaign stop, Rotary, and Lions' club meeting legislators attend, and pushing to have the ten commandments posted above every urinal in every state legislature in America, and above every bidet in the ladies rooms along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the code of Hammurabi in every stall.  Ok, basically none of that is true.  Man, wouldn't it be shocking if it was?

Instead, Faircloth gave a bit of his history: his father was proudly from New England, he grew up in Southern California, he then was all around America getting educated and then spent ten years in the Maine legislature. (His office was right down the hall from where Swoopy worked in a legislative office. Who knew?)  While in the legislature he was often lobbied by faith based and motivate groups and never by lazy head in the sand (my words) free thinkers.  He gave a cheeky opening prayer of the Maine legislature reading Walt Whitman, where a few of those conservative right wing types noted to him that it wasn't a prayer.  He then headed down to old D.C. where he recently became head of the secular coalition.  He has met with the Obama administration, and while he likes that Obama has mentioned the godless and free think types in his inaugural speeches, and has promised to de-faith the faith-based initiatives, he is disappointed the President has not acted upon these initially hopeful words.  It seems to me that tackling the sacred cow of religion in government is even too much for this President.  Instead, President Obama has an initiative to make more uniform and fair math and English requirements for all students in America.  The tricky stuff such as social studies standards, as shown in Texas to be controversial, Faircloth laments the President will at least currently take a pass.  (It always strikes me that few bring up that the President from reliable reports is a faithful christian, but was reared by fairly non-religious or at least not traditionally religious parents.  I cannot get into the Chief Executive's mind, but it does cause me to wonder just how much time and energy he wants to spend on something that he has turned away from since his formative years.  I admit this is just speculation on my part, but as a secular chap, I have to go hum-m-m.  Yes, compared to Geo. W. Bush, the current President is a regular William Howard Taft.  I do not dispute it, nor do I doubt his sincerity in his generally friendly rhetoric towards the nonreligious.  I do question how motivated he is to pursue it.)

Faircloth also lamented that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an opinion upholding 'In God We Trust' on United States currency.  All I can think is that if the 9th, which is historically the most progressive circuit won't overturn INGWT, then it is not going to occur anytime soon.  Faircloth also shared his new 50 state plan to have affiliated groups to lobby in all the state capitols to push a more grassroots campaign.  My only issue with this strategy is it might be too broad.  I'd say pick three or five states and concentrate the efforts to get a few visible wins.  Once you win in say "New Jersey," then it might impress and rally the troops in Pennsylvania and have a domino effect throughout the country.  (I know.  It did not work for the commies, but I suggest efforts spread everywhere is likely to be spread too thin.)  Anyway, Faircloth does have a fresh approach to pursue a secular agenda, and I do think it is important to keep an eye on the local government: i.e school boards to avoid lots of little Dovers springing up everywhere.  I sit only twenty or so miles from famous Dover, PA.  I work across the street from the Federal Building where Dover vs. Kitzmiller tried.  In fact my editor, Lady Whitehall, took the oath entering into the Middle District bar from the Judge Jones.  My wife actually floated in ecstasy in his presence just like St. Thomas Aquinas did when around the blessed virgin.  (That's not true either.  I'm in a goofy mood.)

I think Faircloth had a lot of interesting things to say, and made me think.  Clearly, he has plans to shake things up with the Secular Coalition, which is a good way to get things moving.  In fact, the only thing he said that really bothered me is he used the term "activist" conservative court.  It seems to me that a court is "activist" when it hands down decisions one disagrees, but a non-activist court is one that hands down opinion that you agree .  It always made me cringe to hear the "activist Warren Court."  Usually, noted by John Birchers and people who thought the court in the 50's and 60's was stretching the meaning of the constitution.

On the other hand, Faircloth is a Beatles fan.  He spoke of how the Beatles were for people to "think for yourself."  I was waiting to see if Swoopy was going to risk playing the Beatles song "Think for yourself" with its classic fuzz-bass line at the break, but alas I am sure a possible lawsuit from E.M.I. caused that idea to be shelved real quick.  (Damn the man.)

A modest and unlikely proposal. 

Skeptoid this week featured listener feedback.  Brain Dunning answered critical questions and comments charged against his show over the past few months.  Dunning was sarcastic in some of his responses in an effort, I believe, to bring some levity to the episode.  It did not work for me.  Dunning is a skeptical machine, he's the Hyundai of modern skepticism 2.0.  If I had a sixth of Dunning's skeptical chops, I'd consider myself a skeptical whiz.  Dunning's normal shows are paragons of pithy skeptical information.  However, while walking my dog and listening to the episode, I was starting to wonder what if Brian Thompson was doing this episode?  This is the type of area where Thompson excels, razor sharp parody and sarcasm.  In my dog walking wearied mind, I thought perhaps Dunning could contract out his response episodes to Thompson, and everyone would win.  Except, I do not imagine there is a snowball's chance that is ever going to happen.  (Those Skeptoids would have to be rated "R," or a Nun with a ruler would have to police Thompson as he recorded the show to keep his potty mouth in line.)

Despite the above meanderings of my mind, the informational content shared by Dunning was very good as always.

It was a good day of skeptical podcast listening.

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