Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrate Freedom

On account of my wife's pleadings and our mutual lack of closet space, I had to get rid of a number of old t-shirts this morning. Among them was an old favorite with an American flag pictured waving across the front, and the phrase "Celebrate Freedom" emblazoned thereunder.

I would love to celebrate freedom, but it's difficult to do so when I cannot help but thinking of how many of our fellow citizens we deprive of liberty when compared to other nations whom we condescending think of as less libertarian than ourselves. You can lie to yourself and blithely "celebrate freedom" as if we Americans enjoy liberties that other developed countries are sorely lacking, or else you can get real and do something to address the underlying problems which have lead to our current status as the world's leading jailer.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Signage at Moore Liquor
Photo credit: Danny Wallace

Today is July 2nd, the anniversary of the date in 1776 on which the Second Continental Congress voted to formally cut legal ties with Great Britain by adopting the Lee Resolution. This momentous event prompted John Adams to write the following to his wife on July 3rd:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more...
Turns out he was only off by a couple of days, because Americans were so taken with the wording of the subsequent declaration of independence to the British that they pretty much disregarded the fact that the colonies had formally voted for independence two days earlier. A cynic might say that the triumph of style over substance in American self-governance took all of 48 hours, but the full story is just a bit more complicated, but we'll not go into it just now.

According to Professor James R. Heintze, one of the first celebrations of the 4th of July took place two years later, in 1778, as "General George Washington direct[ed] his army to put 'green boughs' in their hats, issue[d] them a double allowance of rum, and order[ed] a Fourth of July artillery salute" from his headquarters in New Jersey.

Which brings me to the problem of rum. I'm a fan of rum, especially Puerto Rican rum, and it seems that we Okies cannot buy any rum on July 4th (because it is Independence Day) or on July 3rd (because it is the Lord's Day). So, if I want to celebrate July 4th in grand Washingtonian style, with a double helping of my favorite rum, I've got to get my ass out to the liquor store today. On that note, I'm off to Moore Liquor, because it seems that they alone are willing to publicly condemn the foolishness and irony of celebrating our national independence by curtailing our individual liberties.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Movie review - The Ledge

Do not read this post if you have yet to enjoy The Ledge. Seriously, turn back now. Here are several helpful links which paint this film as a pro-atheist masterpiece. Click on those, then go watch the show.

Still here? Not to be reflexively contrarian, but I think that after thoroughly enjoying this well-executed and suspenseful thriller, we should take a moment to ponder the following: Does this movie tend to reinforce some of the worst stereotypes which are laid on us unbelievers in America?

Atheists are often portrayed as arrogant and caustic, ever ready to take the slightest excuse to passionately attack any expression of religious faith. Granted, I’m exactly like that myself, but then I’m pretty much of an all-around asshole, as my few friends will happily confirm. I’ve noticed, however, that most of my comrades at the local freethought group don’t take nearly such a combative approach. Unlike me, they are frequently fairly friendly, even in the face of faith-based foolishness. I suppose one could make the argument that the protagonist was in this movie was goaded by unsolicited expressions of homophobia, but the viewer gets the sense that he is pretty much always like this.

We unbelievers are thought of by theistic moralists as sexually unrestrained, indifferent to the sanctity of marriage and the Golden Rule. The protagonist perfectly demonstrates all of these unpleasant qualities by deliberately seducing his neighbor’s wife, in precisely the same way that his wife had been seduced away from him – screwing unto others as he had been screwed, rather than doing unto them as he would be done by.

We are also thought of as Nietzschean, arrogant, and selfish. While this might be true of the hard-core Ayn-Randroids, it is not true of the vast majority of us. The protagonist of this movie, however, acts in the spirit of a Randian leading man, taking charge in every situation and even pressuring one of his subordinates (whom he had brought on and could presumably let go) to into a sexual relationship. There is a reason people get sacked for this sort of behavior nowadays, especially when they don’t prove invariably irresistible to the opposite sex. Had the male lead looked less like Charlie Hunnam and more like the bosses I've known, we might have instantly realized just how creepy his unsolicited come-ons really were.

What just kills me about all this seductive nonsense is that none of it was essential to the plot line. The male and female leads could have fallen in love simply by spending too much innocent time together and not ever realizing their inner feelings until they were mutually overwhelmed. Granted, that’s a bit of a trope, but then the scheming seduction of a submissive female by a dominant male is even more overused and timeworn, as tropes go.

Speaking of submissive females, can I grouse about Liv Tyler’s character for just a moment? She doesn’t seem to have an independent thought in her head. She goes from being told what to do by her crippling addiction, to being told what to do by her pimp, to being told what to do by her church and her husband, to being told what to do by her godless boss and eventual lover. At no time does she take a stand against the flow of events as they pour over her. No wonder she talks to goddamn softly the whole time. I’ve never met a woman quite like this character in the real world, and with any luck I never will.

To sum up, insufferably arrogant and inordinately sexy atheist man seduces unbelievably submissive and similarly sexy Christian woman. Psychopathic jealous husband takes Old Testament commands to heart and does what comes naturally. In the end, everyone gets that which they should have seen coming, and we can all go home happy, with most of our worst stereotypes about men, women, atheists, and Christians more-or-less intact.