A brief but fascinating look into the life of two KKK groups

From the Washington Post: A photographer hung out with the KKK in Tennessee and Maryland. Here’s what he saw.

KKK Wedding

It’s fascinating to see these people doing their thing. I’m surprised to see that these people closely match my idea of the KKK. It’s rare that one’s idea of a group so exactly corresponds to the actual people in that group.

A Conversation on Atheism and Extremism

The idea of atheism is so easy to understand, but seems to be misunderstood by most. I attribute that misunderstanding to a combination of lack of education and willful (possibly unconscious) misunderstanding due to the threat atheism poses to theistic belief systems.

I’m going to begin posting interesting conversations I have on religion, including atheism, for the potential benefit of others. This conversation began with my posting of the Oatmeal comic below.


Commenter: Oh… I thought the atheist extremist was one killing off 25% of the population in the genocide of Cambodia in the seventies, or one causing starvation and death for millions in the Soviet Union under the collectivisations of Stalin. But ok, there are extremists of different kinds.

Me: You’re expressing a very common misconception.

As the comic points out, atheism isn’t a prescriptive worldview, like Christianity and Islam. Atheism is descriptive, not prescriptive. So atheists are free to do whatever they want. As the comic notes, atheists tend to be well educated and peaceful people who love science. The causation flows the other way, of course. People who are well educated, peaceful, and love science tend to reject religion because it doesn’t conform to their understanding of the world and doesn’t serve their needs.

Your examples depict totalitarian socialism, not atheism. Atheism was only a part of those movements because they were anti-theistic. The leaders persecuted religions for the same reason they persecuted specific cultures, intellectuals, and artists, because the leaders considered them threats to their absolute power.

Hopefully this clarifies things.

Commenter: I thought we were talking about extremists. Are you really claiming that Christians and Muslims in general are not educated and peaceful?

Me: You’re misrepresenting my points, or perhaps misunderstanding me. I’ll restate in simpler terms.

1. Atheism doesn’t tell you what to do. There is no such thing as an atheist extremist. It’s nonsensical to have someone have an extreme lack of belief.
2. There are certainly anti-theists, but those are generally people who hate one or more religions, often the middle eastern monotheistic ones. Atheism does not cause anti-theism.
3. There are totalitarians, but atheism does not cause totalitarian thinking.

Commenter: I do not think I misunderstand or misrepresent. However, I think Oatmeal gives a twist for humorous purposes, which you seem to think reflects reality.

Talking about extremists there have historically been virulent anti-religous movements, inspired by quotes like “religion is the opium of the people.” These extremists were inspired by atheism and atheists movements, and they caused the deaths of millions. This kind of atheism does tell you what to do.

I do not know what you mean by “atheism does not cause anti-theism.” Surely anti-theism and anti-religiosity would not be possible without atheism. It is a necessary (but not on its own sufficient) condition to create extreme anti-religiosity.

Likewise, religion is not a sufficient condition to cause religious extremism.

Oatmeal uses humour – I sure smiled a brief moment, but it is not by any means a representation of reality.

And stepping on the border of Godwin’s law: imagine if the atheist Russians Communists and unreligious German Nazis had been overtaken by moderate religious figures. WWII would simply not have taken place.

Likewise WWI would not have take place if people had not had the nationalist fervour they had, and if they instead had been inspired by moderate religion.

Me: Because you insist on erroneously defining atheism and interpreting history to support your faulty worldview, I don’t see an advantage to continuing this conversation. Good bye.

I wish I could say the willful misunderstanding and ignorance of history displayed by this commenter was rare, but it’s the rule rather than the exception. The above is not at all my best writing, but I think it’s clear enough that I’m presenting the conversation verbatim so you can see what actually transpired.

The original G+ post I used as the basis for this post can be found here.

Outrage Isn’t Going to Prevent Another Brock Turner

The Internet has been on fire with outrage over the lenient sentence given Brock Turner. What good do we think that will do his victim, us individually, or society? I’m disappointed that this young man refuses to take responsibility for his actions, for shattering the life of a young woman. None of us can make him accept responsibility for what he’s done, and continues to do, since his refusal to formally accept that he’s raped a woman and severely harmed her, and that this was wrong, is making it more difficult for her to move past this trauma.

I propose that we spell out what we want from Brock, from his parents, the justice system, lawmakers, and society, and why we want each of these things. We have a responsibility to prevent this from happening to others. Raging against decisions and people we disagree with will do little or nothing to prevent this from happening again.

Here’s my list, at least as a starting point.

1. Brock Turner needs to admit that he raped this woman, and that it’s entirely his fault. He should formally apologize to her.
2. Brock Turner’s parents need to formally admit that their son did something terrible, and that he should face the consequences of his actions.
3. Brock Turner should be sentenced to several years of community service, of a kind that will develop empathy and provide a genuinely needed service to society.
4. Lawmakers should create laws that ensure restitution for victims of sex crimes, from the offender where possible and the state otherwise, and that restitution should be opened ended enough to provide whatever is necessary to help the victim recover fully (as fully as humanly possible).
5. What can we do to prevent rape? There are many things we can do better. Talking to boys and girls is necessary but clearly not sufficient. What else can we do? Where is the balance between liberty and security? Where should the responsibility for rape prevention fall?

For background: I’m a married father of a college age daughter and two high school age sons. This issue is immediately relevant to my life.

Google Plus vs Facebook

I recently started using Facebook a couple times a week, largely because there are a few people I care about who use only Facebook. Here’s the difference between the two social networks.

Facebook has accumulated and kept so many people for so long due to simple human inertia. Most humans are averse to spending time and effort to move to a new experience or platform unless there’s great reward and little risk in doing so. Facebook spends a huge amount of time and money, including employing many scientists, specifically to determine and maintain a balance where the pain of using Facebook is less than the pain of leaving it. The reward for using Facebook is the ability to connect with friends, play mindless games, and be served information you want.

Looking at Google Plus, it’s clear that not only would you have to rebuild your social network essentially from scratch, leaving behind many friends who are kept on another network by their own inertia, but you’ll have to learn a potentially more complex system, all without guaranteed reward. Google Plus also requires more effort to experience its potential rewards than Facebook. With Facebook, you can be mostly a passive consumer of information and services and experience much of what it has to offer. With Google Plus, you need to be more active in seeking out worthwhile sources of information and interactions. There are far more deep and intellectually challenging conversations to be had on Google Plus, but participating in them requires significant effort and many people aren’t interested in those conversations, especially at the cost of expending that effort.

National Grammar Day – Haiku Winners

Haikus can be wonderful. I’m not a purist, so if something doesn’t adhere to the classical rules of Haiku, I’m not going to complain, as long as it’s honest about its heritage.

Grammar Girl posted a short piece on the recent National Grammar Day Haiku Contest winners. I’ll share a bit of that with you, because I love Haiku and so should you.

This being Grammar Girl and Grammar Day, the contest focuses on haikus that centrally involve grammar.

This one, written by Arika Okrent in 2013, cleverly references we all know from experience.

I am an error

And I will reveal myself

After you press “send”

The first and third place winners from 2016 didn’t move me, so I won’t share them here, but you can find them here.

The second place winner, from Monica Sharman, is striking in its emotion and metaphorical truth.

“Edit” in Latin

means “He eats” or “She eats”—

We devour your words

The fourth place winner, from Larry Kunz, is brilliant in its use of grammar and mental imagery.

She said, I love you.

Her beau replied, I loved you.

Then the time passed, tense.

If you enjoyed these, there are many more a quick search away. I’ll close with a non grammar related mutt of a haiku that always cracks me up.

Take me down to Hai-

ku city where the grass is

green, and the dammit

Should we respect all beliefs?

I’m reposting an intriguing question I encountered on G+. The original post is first, including a beautiful picture as well as a comment by Sam Harris, followed by my response.

Should we respect all Beliefs? Here’s an interesting take by Sam Harris…

Consider for a moment this notion that you should respect other people’s beliefs. Where else in our discourse do we encounter this?

When was the last time anyone was admonished to respect another person’s beliefs about history, or biology, or physics? We do not respect people’s beliefs; we evaluate their reasons.

Illusion Art 4

Harris’ take on this is thought provoking and tempting to follow, isn’t it? My response is below.

We don’t need to respect people’s beliefs. We do need to respect people. It’s fine, and very desirable, to critique a set of beliefs. That’s fundamentally different than criticizing a person for their beliefs.

If you critique beliefs by analyzing them and pointing out deficiencies as well as strengths, especially in a process of dialogue, then you gain understanding of the framework in which those beliefs exist, and you also allow the person holding those beliefs room to engage you openly and examine their beliefs if they’re willing. If you criticize the person, then you shut down the possibility of dialogue and place them in a defensive stance, focused on defending themselves and their beliefs.

What do you think?

Here’s a link to my reshare of the original post – https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherLamke/posts/jBEWpqBvbdV – The comments on mine and especially the original are worth reading if you’re exploring this topic.

Citizens should retain their voting rights, without exception

Voting should be an inalienable right, not forfeited by any conviction. The right to keep arms should be restored upon completion of an offender’s sentence unless he was convicted of crimes of violence.

Virginia’s Governor recently restored voting rights to a large number of felons. You can read the New York Times’ account of this here – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/us/governor-terry-mcauliffe-virginia-voting-rights-convicted-felons.html

I’ll present here a brief dialogue between me and a very smart G+ friend. I think it covers the issues here well.

Friend: Quick hypothetical…
If rights should be restored in full after a sentence is served, would you include the 2nd amendment rights? I believe the question is purely academic because where federal law allows for states to decide the issue with regard to voting rights, I believe it strictly prohibits the same for gun ownership. Could be mistaken about that.

I honestly feel the nature of the crime should be considered with the answer being a clear “no” in cases of violent crime.

Me: That’s a very good question. For violent crimes, I would say gun rights should remain suspended. In fact, my stance would depend on what right we’re talking about. I treat voting differently because it’s the primary and most powerful voice the citizen has in a democracy. As long as our votes are fairly counted and elections determine the leadership of our nation, we can save ourselves (or be the instrument of our own destruction).

For a felony having nothing to do with violence or force, I don’t see why someone shouldn’t have their firearms rights restored after their sentence is served. The right to self defense should be inherent. There’s an argument that firearms specifically are very rarely needed for self defense, but that would be a distraction from the main issue of whether this right is inherent. We could also consider the other legitimate uses of firearms, such as hunting or sports, and whether there’s a compelling reason the state should prevent a felon from engaging in these activities. This could get tricky to implement, but we could start with the standard of whether a reasonable person believes the felon would be likely to illegally use a firearm and see where that takes us.

Friend: Well, in the case of voting rights, wouldn’t the same principle hold true in regards to crimes of moral turpitude? Do you want the former leaders of Enron to have a say in who becomes the leader of the free world?

Me: I thought about moral turpitude as a disqualifier, but I think it’s more important to treat the right to vote as inherent than to allow exceptions and weaken this right. I think the moral turpitude argument could have unintended consequences, and I note that some of the most immoral people (e.g. Don Blankenship) are either walking free with all their rights intact or not convicted of any felonies. For democracy to work, we have to trust that the masses of the people won’t be so shortsighted, fearful, or ignorant as to vote a disastrous person into power. I know this isn’t the best time for that trust and the Bush 2 Presidency is a counterexample, but I still prefer democracy to the alternatives.

Both: We were in agreement and ended the discussion at this point.


So what do you think about this? Feel free to tell me in the comments.


Four Items to Exclude from Your Work Emails

Fast Company has a good article detailing four items to exclude from your work emails. This is work focused, but the idea behind excluding these is relevant to personal emails as well.

These are good rules of thumb. This is largely about retaining your humanity in the bustle of work life. We need to see the people we’re communicating with as individuals, not communications endpoints. This is sometimes important individually, always important in the aggregate.

I sometimes send or respond to 50+ emails a day as tech lead of a ~15 person agile team, with a number of core members and an equal number of temporary staff, with all the logistical and technical setup, expectations setting, and insecurity that goes with that. It’s more than a handful, and the only way to keep the team productive and keep everyone engaged and reasonably happy with their work is to treat them individually as human beings, not just collectively as a team.

For a long time, I had a sticky note on one of my monitors reminding me to “Slow Down. Be Kind.” I brought the note home during an office move. I need to put the original back up at work and make a copy for home. I’m often better at following the note at work than home and I need to fix that.

Source: 4 Types Of Useless Phrases You Need To Eliminate From Your Emails