Thursday, February 25, 2010

Atheists in Business

I came across an interesting discussion over at Atheist Revolution about the role of religion (in this case, the lack of) in a business environment:

"... First, there is the scenario where we have a small atheist-owned business and must contend with the owner potentially losing customers when his or her atheism becomes known. And second, there is the case of an atheist being employed in a company where most of the prejudice encountered would be expected to come from co-workers and bosses ...

The Atheist Employee

I'll speculate that most atheists employed in the U.S. either have faced some sort of prejudice in their place of employment or remain closeted at work in order to avoid this outcome. I've encountered prejudice of all kinds at the state university where I am employed (e.g., race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and atheism). What stands out to me is that most people seem to know that it is inappropriate and try to conceal it, except when it comes to atheists. In fact, I've heard more than my share of anti-atheist bigotry right out in the open (e.g., atheists are immoral, can't be trusted, evil people, etc.). People do not seem to put it in the same category as other forms of prejudice and have few compunctions about expressing it openly.

I have also heard from friends and family of far more serious examples of prejudice and discrimination against atheists in the workplace. These include repeated, unwanted invitations to attend church with the boss, mandatory attendance at sectarian prayer meetings during work, open hostility from co-workers including threats of hell, and even termination.

Particularly here in the South, being an open atheist can be an excruciatingly difficult experience in many places of employment. At the same time, being an openly evangelical fundamentalist Christian is often encouraged, sometimes explicitly so.

Atheist-Owned Businesses

... I'd guess that it would be virtually impossible to run a small business in a small and rabidly Christian community as an open atheist. I've heard many stories of professionals in such settings losing clients after answering questions honestly about their views on religion.

I would expect the experience of atheist business owners to be highly variable by region. In a large city in a more educated part of the country, I suspect one could do okay even while being reasonable open about one's atheism. Customer word-of-mouth and the involvement of churches might be less important in such settings ..."

Being an atheist, a business owner, and a former employee, I can speak to whether these situations are applicable to my case. The definition of an "open" atheist is difficult as I don't actively advertise that I'm an atheist, but I also don't actively hide it. Part of that is the difference in how one's faith (or lack of) informs their daily life.

With Christians, and I don't think I'm speaking out of turn here, your religion does influence most things you do on a daily basis. It certainly affects how your children are taught, how you handle work situations, and what movies you watch and what music you listen to.

I can honestly say that I go through life and religion doesn't factor into my decisions at all, except when someone else's exercising of their religion intrudes on mine.

I have not personally been descriminated against overtly for my atheism and that is due to several things: 1. My employers and clients don't know I'm an atheist because I don't go around with an atheist patch 2. The computer/software industry is fairly open-minded. When I say "overtly", I mean that no one has personally ridiculed me for being atheist. But, if you define descrimination to include unwanted invitations and professions of faith, I get that on a daily basis.

As a Christian, would you be offended if a Muslim or Jew invited you to their church or expressed a religious belief without being asked? I suspect that many would. I guess most of that doesn't bother me because I don't elevate it to the importance that people of faith would. Someone talking about their preference of religion is no more important to me than if they said they were a Yankee fan. In both cases I may think they were nuts, but c'est la vie. To each his own.

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make. I guess the gist of it is, I personally think business is not a place for expressing your religious tastes, for or against. You are free to believe what you want, but when it impedes on others doing the same, then you have went too far.

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." -- H. L. Mencken

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meet the Flintstones

Nearly a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time, and more than half disagree with the theory that humans developed from earlier species of animals, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

... 38 percent agreed with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago."

• Most of the Texans in the survey — 51 percent — disagree with the statement, "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." Thirty-five percent agreed with that statement, and 15 percent said they don't know.

• Did humans live at the same time as the dinosaurs? Three in ten Texas voters agree with that statement; 41 percent disagree, and 30 percent don't know...

What can we glean from this?
  • * This explains an awful lot about the nature of politics in Texas.
  • * It is not surprising that the rest of the world has passed us in math and science aptitude.
  • * Politics and religion are driving education ... to the detriment of a whole generation of children.
  • * You couldn't pay me to live in Texas.
I won't make this particular shortcoming into a Democratic or Republican thing. The poll didn't show a huge difference in responses by party affiliation. It definitely seems to be more a religious "thing".

I wholeheartedly believe in religious freedom but there are areas in which religion has no place, most notably education. I'm not saying there shouldn't be schools with religious affiliation but rather fact-based classes (math, science) should not be influenced by faith. If you want to have religion in your humanities, history, ethics and even writing classes - fine (just not in public schools). There is room for interpretation in those.

However, the age of the planet is not open for interpretation, especially on the scale we are talking about here: 10,000 years vs. 5 billion. Believing the world is 10,000 years old while living in a state whose wealth came from the decomposition of organisms over millions of years (fossil fuels) is an irony that is obviously lost on the average Texan. This goes beyond freedom of belief. We simply cannot afford to be this stupid and survive as a species.

"You know the good part about all those executions in Texas? Fewer Texans." -- George Carlin

Thursday, February 18, 2010

el Rushbo

I went to a client today and they had el Rushbo on the radio in their office. I hadn't actually heard his voice in awhile and I think may have threw up in my mouth a little bit.

If anyone thinks he's harmless or fringe, you may need to listen to him for a bit just to remind yourself that good and seemingly normal people listen to him. And that's a scary thing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My finds from the 2010 VNSA Used Book Sale

Great finds again at this year's sale:

Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan
Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

Science Non-Fiction

The four following authors spoke at the Origins Symposium I attended last year (3 of which I saw):
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Hiding in the Mirror by Lawrence m. Krauss (the head of the Origins Iniative at ASU and author of several 'Physics of ...' books)
Present at the Future by Ira Flatow (host of Science Friday on NPR
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene


Science Friction by Michael Shermer

Why Does E=mc2? by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw (Cox was on Colbert recently discussing this book


Truth and Consequences by Keith Olbermann
Hot, Flat & Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman
Straight Talk from the Heartland by Ed Schultz
The Politics of Truth by Joseph Wilson (Valerie Plame's husband)


I'm a nut for books about mountain climbing:

The Hill by Ed Hommer
Touching My Father's Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay
No Shorcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs

"Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss: in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakeably meant for his ear." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, February 15, 2010


I think if I have one more client say to me, "so much for global warming", in response to the snowstorms on the East coast, I may go on a killing spree. Seriously, people, we can't afford to be this obtuse. I know you believe something must be true if Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck say it is so. I know it's confusing for you. After all you have trusted academics like James Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Crichton one one side and 97% of the world's climatologists on the other.

It's like the game you play with babies where they think you've disappeared if you cover your face. Life ain't a game of "peek-a-boo". A snow-storm does not mitigate a preponderance of historical data. Actually the opposite,

... climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe told The New York Times that the recent weather furthered doubts over whether climate change is "unequivocal" or a human-made phenomenon.

If anything, though, the weather should help dispel those doubts, contend major climate scientists and activists.

"Record snow is not in any way, shape, or form evidence against climate science and in fact it is largely consistent with it," Joseph Romm, a former Energy Department official in President Bill Clinton's administration ...

"I wouldn't want to say global warming is the cause or the sole cause [of the snowstorms]but we are in a warming trend," he said. "It is absurd when we are in an overall warming trend that a snowstorm is evidence of a cooling trend. But the anti-science side – the ideologues – have been trying to push the idea that we're in a cooling trend and that this is evidence of that."

In fact, increased snowfall is entirely in line with climate projections, said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with

... Romm agrees. "You heat up the planet and you put more moisture in the atmosphere, you get the more intense precipitation that has been observed globally and has been observed in the United States," he said.

But people believe what they want to believe or that they have a vested interest in believing. No point in letting the truth getting in the way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I just finished a really good book by Malcolm Gladwell, Blink, about how, frequently, our first impressions are the best ones. This is a very readable book, not too long and not overloaded with statistics.  In other words, it doesn't read like a college dissertation.  Gladwell also wrote The Tipping Point, a book which I haven't read yet but would like to.

Gladwell cites several studies of different types which predicted outcomes based on very limited information.  For example, one experiment studied married couples discussing a seemingly innocuous subject unrelated to their marriage.  Based on facial characteristics and subtle reactions, the the leaders of the experiment were able to make remarkable predictions on the suitability of the couples (and on whether they would be married years in the future).  They were able to do this with only a 15 minute tape of the couples talking.  If a layman watched the couples talking, they seemed jovial and compatible.  But the experimenters had a checklist of very specific characteristics that they were looking for and that constituted a scorecard of sorts.

Most everyone is an expert in something.  When you are faced with a situation in your particular field of expertise, you usually can make a highly accurate appraisal almost instantaneously based on what would appear to be very little information.  But because of vast experience, you are making unconscious judgments that go into that appraisal.  That intuition is, in many cases, uncannily accurate.  And if you go on to analyze the situation too much, it muddies the situation and your appraisal becomes increasingly inaccurate.  "Thinking on it" doesn't necessarily help.

"We live in a world saturated with information. We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips at all times, and we’re well versed in the arguments about the dangers of not knowing enough and not doing our homework. But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding."

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

First impressions are not always the most accurate.  Counter-intuitively, going with your gut on big decisions (career, spouse) is the right choice, but making hasty choices with small things (like where to eat) is not. 

Gladwell is humorous and has a wide range of anecdotes to illustrate his points.  Overall, a very enjoyable read and one that will make you think about how you make decisions.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rahm Emanuel

That's pretty funny. I've not always been the biggest Rahm fan but I like his fire. And the hub-bub about his comments to fellow Dem's was overblown. And Palin IS a "f**ckin' gimmick". Her hypocrisy is staggering. On Fox today she defended Rush Limbaugh using the term "retards" to describe the same people Rahm did. I will put up with a lot of stuff but I will not suffer morons that listen to a single word that Palin says. You people are tools.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Political Song of the Day - Prejudice by Soulfly

Shame of all nations
What seeds do we plant in an infant's mind?
Seeds of destruction
And don't you trust their kind?
This hate is deep-rooted, get rid of the weed
Destroying the harvest
Of peace that we need

Shame of all nations

We got to live in the same neighborhood
When you take a man's life it don't mean that you're good
Same blood runs through your veins
Your hate proves youre insane
See a man's face but you can't see his heart
Don't even know him but you tear him apart

Them kind of things, they're just killing off the Earth
Madness, mayhem, we must desert...

Shame of all nations
Breeding hate, don't need no segregation

If dirty people are all I can see
Then in their eyes the same dirt covers me
Take off the blindfold, it's time to enlighten
Come out of the wickedness, step out of the night
One man's agony is another man's joy
For self satisfaction we're prepared to destroy
One man, one earth and one destiny
To kill Satan and give God the glory...

Shame of a nation
Breeding hate, don't cause annihilation

For real