specifically, the pacific (northwest)

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Some photos from the last month or so. (1) Tiger lily wildflower; (2) giant cow on a barge; (3) bear grass along path; (4) cooking oysters; (5) a bear in the woods; (6) a specific Pacific Ocean

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ask the non-believer

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It seems like a fair number of people are curious about the non-religious. I wouldn’t have thought there would be many questions, but I’ve hung around Quora for a while, and seen lots of wondering. Here are common questions that I’ve been reading along with my short answers.

What is the philosophy behind atheism and what does it contribute to the world?
It’s not a philosophy. It means not believing in gods. That’s it. If you don’t believe that elves exist, no one asks you about your elf-less philosophy and what it’s contributing to the world.

Why don’t you believe?
Lack of evidence. Keep in mind that what a book says is not evidence, the number of people who believe in gods is not evidence (and neither is how smart some of the people are), the fact that someone had a deep, life-changing experience is not evidence, and neither is “But just look at this amazing world!” Also, deeply studying religious philosophy does not produce evidence. It seems much more plausible that people came up with gods, not vice versa.

What would it take to convince you that the god I believe in exists?
I’m not sure, but if all the starving people in the world were fed immediately, and if all diseased and suffering children were cured and given peace and joy right now, that would be a good start. Of course, the god or gods would need to appear and claim credit. I still wouldn’t know if this was actually the result of a god or some super-technology by aliens, but go ahead and ask your god to do this in case it hasn’t occurred to him/her/it.

How do you know for certain there are no gods?
I don’t know for certain. I put gods in the same category as leprechauns. I can’t say for sure they don’t exist, but assume they don’t. I suppose someone might try to say I’m really an agnostic, but would you say you’re agnostic about leprechauns? I wouldn’t.

Where do your morals come from without religion?
People are born with the capacity for empathy. It’s common in social mammals that have to band together to survive. Good parents encourage it. Innate traits aside, it’s also common sense not to want to live in a society where murder, cheating, and robbery are rampant.

If there’s no god, then where did the universe come from?
I don’t know. If you say a god created it, but you don’t have evidence of that, and you also can’t say where the god came from, then your answer is worse than “I don’t know.”

Why do you want to stamp out religion?
I don’t. I can live peacefully with religious people, and I don’t go door to door asking folks if they’ve heard the good news about the lack of gods. There is a vocal group of religious people who want to  reduce or eliminate many civil rights and to end the separation of church and state. Only those people I will actively oppose.

P.S. That’s just the way I am.
In case this helps round things out, I also doubt the existence of spirits, ghosts, telepathy, reincarnation, and other things we have no evidence to support. No astrology, no homeopathy, and no magic. Life is a fabulous parade of discoveries, facts, experiences, and sheer amazement — no need to add wispy fantasies to the mix.

building the back-scratching octopus, part 2

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As mentioned in the last post, the octopus must be finished soon. Here are the latest additions.

Draped seaweed – A sea-weedy fabric curtain from a thrift store, cut in strips and hung from a pipe-cleaner collar.

Tentacle holder – Tentacles are pinned to another piece of vaguely sea-like material (this may have been something that tied back drapes) and then hung around the neck.

Sea shoes – Because octopus don’t have human-like feet, this is an embarrassing necessity. I took the sleeves cut from a old green shirt and stretched them over shoes. Hopefully no one will notice that I’m not really a cephalopod.

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building the back-scratching octopus

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It’s almost time for the Solstice parade and if I’m going to scratch the backs of onlookers, there’s work to be done.

Tentacles – Cheap costume tights, stuffed with polyester batting. 10-gauge wire is inserted and bent so they don’t just hang straight down. There are six tentacles because my arms will go through the legs of another pair of tights to make the seventh and eighth.

Suckers – An old bathtub mat made from little disk-shaped plastic pieces was handy. I’ve cut it up and hot-glued the vaguely circular, semi-transparent chunks to the tentacles.

Giant back-scratcher – The same one from prior years. I stripped off the old monkey fur, added green tape and sea-weedy cloth strips.

There are more steps involved before I’m confident that no one will catch on. Spectators should think I’m a real octopus carrying a giant back-scratcher, of course. 

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deep in the political swamp, with slimy tendrils around our legs

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“Drain the swamp!” was a frequent chant at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies. Then there was an election, and we have the swampiest administration seen in decades, if not ever.

Creatures from the Swamp

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent $25,000 on a sound proof phone booth in his office. He took a $40,000 tax-payer paid trip to Morocco to explain the benefits of importing liquid natural gas from the USA. Turns out there’s only one liquid natural gas exporter in the USA, and Scott Pruitt has been living in a condo owned by that company’s lobbyist. And what does this have to do with the Environmental Protection Agency in the first place? Pruitt, by the way, flies first class on our dime because he needs the extra “security” provided by first class.

Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, spent $53,000 on three helicopter trips last year, including one to go horseback riding with Vice President Pence. On another occasion he spent $12,000 for a single charter plane flight from Las Vegas to Montana. By the way, Zinke requires that his “secretarial flag” be raised on the flagpole of his building when he is in the office and taken down when he leaves.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after spending at least $400,000 on private jet trips for himself and his staff.

In other swamp drainage news, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin spent $800,000 on military plane trips when he could have flown on airlines for $20,000. He requested a military plane for his honeymoon in Europe, but changed his mind when the media (taxpayers) got wind of his greed. He took a government plane to Kentucky for a day trip to watch the solar eclipse. His wife posted a picture of them getting off the plane on Instagram, saying, “Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #countryside #rolandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa.” The items you might not recognize are designer clothing.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was stopped before spending $31,000 of taxpayer money for a new dining set. Carson blamed his wife.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor, met in the White House with two large financial companies (Apollo and Citigroup) to allegedly discuss infrastructure and trade policy. After the meetings, Kushner’s private companies received very large loans from both institutions.

The Swamp Master

No one is surprised by the above, except, apparently, most of the people who voted for Trump. They didn’t notice his history of bankruptcies, of stiffing his contractors, of turning to Russian oligarchs for funding his projects, and settling a $25,000 lawsuit brought by thousands of students who’d been defrauded by a scam called “Trump University.” I guess these voters also didn’t notice Trump’s many years of stupidly claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

But now his character must be well-known to even those who supported him, right? I mean, he filled the government with industry lobbyists who now “regulate” the industries they used to work for. Then there are his relations with a porn star and a Playboy Playmate and the hush money,

He promoted and passed a tax bill that would benefit him personally. He even put the presidential seal on golf tee markers at Mar-a-Lago golf course! Called Vladimir Putin and said, in effect, “Congratulations on winning your phony election, come visit me at the White House, and … ha ha … are you going to poison anyone else?”

Haven’t yet mentioned his sliming of a U.S. judge because of his Mexican heritage, his “shithole” country remarks, his “grab them by the pussy” remarks, and his “very fine people on both sides” comment about a white nationalist event. Does anyone still vouch for his character?

It’s no surprise that he would hire like-minded people for his administration. We are deep in the swamp now, and will be lucky if we can get out.

Corruption, not Russia is Trump’s Greatest Political Liability

The Many Scandals of Donald Trump

The Racism of Donald Trump: the Definitive List