Category Archives: Atheism

Hot Air: Easter

With a little bit of Treatment material thrown in. It’s all part of the whole at this point, dig?

I was raised a Roman Catholic by two parents who were sort of iffy about the whole deal for the longest time. My mother prayed the rosary a lot. My father didn’t. He’d take me to St. James Church in the old Polish neighborhood on the Saturday afternoon before Easter to get our basket of food blessed. That was some kind of traditional Slavic rite, I guess, although I’ve never really heard much of it outside those particular times he and I went.


A Polish Catholic Priest Blesses The Easter Baskets

M & D made a lot of hoopla for all the various sacramental passages I achieved: First Confession, First Holy Communion, Confirmation. There were parties and new sets of clothes.

My feeling is M had more of the old religion in her than the Old Man did. If she’d have said, “Joe, don’t set the alarm for Sunday morning — we don’t need to go to Mass anymore,” he’d have happily slept in.

I did enjoy Sunday breakfasts after Mass, though. The three of us would come home (my sisters, by this time, married and out of the house and my brother attaining the age wherein he could thumb his nose at god) and strip off our ties in the case of D and me and Ma would shimmy out of her girdle.

Then she’d lay the fresh bacon in on the hot skillet. The bacon done, she’d start in on the sunny side up eggs. D would pass the time by buttering up four big slices of her homemade bread, which he’d lay out in a neat grid next to his dish. One of them would be for me.

It seems every time I remember this tableau, it was a sunny morning. The smell of coffee and fried bacon were intoxicating, although I was restricted only to my glass of milk.

It all was so good that I figured it had been worth frittering away an hour of my precious life listening to the priest drone on in Latin and then tell us what a sinful bunch of bastards we were in English during his sermon.

And I’m not the only kid whose favorite moment of the entire procedure was, at the very end, with the organist powering up some glorious tune, the priest would say, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”

We were to respond, “Thanks be to god.” My school chum Albert DiPrima and I, our families often parked within eye- and earshot of each other, would belt out our Thanks be to gods and smirk knowingly at each other.

Easter breakfast was different. The old Polish tradition was to serve cold smoked Polish sausage with fiery horseradish, cold ham, buttered rye bread, and the dyed eggs. In fact, those were the items D and I would have taken to St. James to be blessed the afternoon before.

The parade of girlfriends, wives, beaux, and husbands who passed through our family and would be invited for one or more Easter breakfasts never ceased to be amazed at this strange repast. Me? I thought it was the tastiest meal I’d ever eaten — that is until we’d get to Ma’s lasagna and beef roast with red potatoes and carrots later that afternoon.

See, my recollection of holidays has to do exclusively with food which, it’s a good bet, is the driving force behind pretty much every holiday ever conceived by every culture. The priests and nuns, though, weren’t too keen on that. There always had to be some bummer for us to contemplate at holiday time. How Jesus had to be laid in a manger in a barn when he was born or how horribly he suffered in the week leading up to Easter.

In fact, the suffering and resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non for Catholic festivities. The Catholics see Easter as the top holiday, far outstripping Christmas in importance — although you couldn’t have guessed it by the Sicilian side of my family who did the whole Festa dei setti pesci thing, an all-night long Christmas eve orgy of card-playing, drinking wine, laughing, shouting, and eating the Seven Fishes among countless other foods. And I emphasize the word countless.

In any case, during Catechism class, the priest told us that although, of course, the baby Jesus was born on December 25th that wasn’t such a big deal because, hell, everybody’s born. It was his resurrection on Easter Sunday which signified him as the son of god. You and I, natch, don’t get resurrected, see. We’re civilians.

The resurrection could not come without the precursor suffering, the lashings, the persecution, the crown of thorns, the nailing to the cross. The idea being god loved us so much he sent his only begotten son to get the shit kicked out of him in such a way so as to redeem us for all the horse-shitty things we’d been doing from Adam and Eve’s time through the year Zero, inclusive.

Now why the old creator had to do it this way is beyond me, but I remind you, I’m only a civilian.

And at that, I quit the outfit when I was twelve years old. None of it made a lick of sense to me.

The purpose served by the persecution and suffering myth, I’d imagine, is to help the faithful get through their own tortures and agonies. If your husband’s having an affair, if your kid has rheumatic fever, if your sciatica is making you shriek — why, hell, you ought to be able to bear it considering the Roman son of a bitch soldiers jammed spears into Jesus’s side and then sponged his wound with vinegar. That’s how much god and Jesus love you and if they can put up with it then surely you can find in in your heart to suffer your no-good husband’s philandering.

I’ve been thinking about this because even though I completed both chemotherapy and radiation therapy for my cancer Monday, their side effects have crescendoed this week, as I’d been warned. “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better,” my medical oncology nurse Mike cautioned me before I left the infusion center. Yeah, sure, I thought. It’ll be miserable tomorrowbut the day after, baby…, just you wait and see!

I doesn’t work that way, kiddies. I’ve been driven to quitting several times in the last six days. Quitting what? I dunno. The therapies are finished. I can’t quit those. Quitting life itself? Maybe.

Actually, definitely. My own current persecution and agony includes battling with myself to stay positive, to want to get through this, to even see a hint of the other side when I — shining, dazzling, brilliant days to come! — will be able to talk again, to eat again, to not have to hork every hour or so.

That’s one of the things I lack — being an atheist — the ability to lean on faith to get me through the torment. I cannot say my existence is the better for this lack. It’s the price I pay for being a rationalist.

Hot Air


I’ve never tried to conceal the fact that I’m an atheist, either in this space or in any other setting. At the same time, I’ve always felt it was best to take a kid glove approach to people who do believe in a god.

I figured, hell, this world is mad, this life is crazy, and if believing in a distant, invisible being who created the universe and who, albeit rarely, will grant your wishes helps you get through it, fine. I use things like music and comedy and red wine and perhaps another substance or two — unnamed, natch — to negotiate the insanity. Who says my crutch is better than yours?

Now, though, I’ve reached the end of my rope. I’ve had it. The gloves are coming off. This mad, maddening, mad-making, so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Gov. Mike Pence will sign in a private ceremony this morning is the deal-breaker for me.

Here’s the offending clause in RFRA, AKA Senate Bill No. 101, 2015:

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability

See what the bill says? The gov’t may not force a person to violate her or his religious standards even if her/his actions violate laws or the rights of another person. If the rest of us have to play nice and by the rules vis-a-vis other human beings under the law, you, homo-fearing, transgender-fearing, butch-fearing, effeminate-man-fearing, and — most importantly — god-fearing shop owner may deny service to those people whose appearance scares you to death.

All ya gotta do is say god told you so.


Enough. Stop the madness.

You want to believe in god, go ahead. But keep it to yourself. Don’t make rules and laws based on the supposed utterances of a deity or his representatives, the vast majority of which inspire constant discord and strife even among members of your own club. If there are three billion people on this planet who believe in god, there are three billion who disagree over precisely what god wants them to do.

Take pleasure and comfort in your supposed solidarity with an ancient, pre-technology, pre-literate, nomadic desert tribe. Just leave me out of it. And leave my city, my state, my country, and my world out of it. Burn all the incense you want. Raise your hands and pray that the most powerful entity in all creation is looking down upon you with paternal love in his eye. Give all your money to your preacher. Teach your kids that there is only one true god — yours, of course. That’s your right.

My right? Not to be bothered by your bullshit.


Okay kids, here’s the early form chart for the 2016 presidential election.

2016 Odds

Business Insider Chart

You want some advice? Here it is:

1) Bet $500 on Hillary. You’ll make a c-note that way and the risk is really, really minimal.

2) If you can stand merely breaking even on the election in a worst-case scenario, drop another hondo on Ted Cruz. If he loses either in the primaries or the general e., you’re covered. But if he wins — which I don’t believe to be too deranged a proposition (well, yes, a Cruz presidency would indeed be deranged but the possibility of it happening is not) — you’ll cop a cool thirty-three hundred skins. That should take a bit of the sting out of a Cruz victory.

With the way things are headed in this holy land, I’ve got a funny feeling about a Cruz long shot.

[h/t for the chart to Rich Lloyd, Vanderbilt University prof. and player emeritus.]

Carson’s Diagnosis

This may be my fave headline of the month:


So, the leader of this holy land joins an elite club including such luminaries as Charles Manson, John Warnock Hinckley, Mark David Chapman, the Unabomber, and even Norman Bates and Patrick Bateman. Golly gee, thanks for the clarification, Dr. Carson!


We Now Have It On Good Authority

Hot Air

The Biggest Daddy-o Of Them All

[Big Mike Note: Here’s another blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, some four years ago. Sure, I’m an atheist; but I’m not a fanatic about it. Enjoy.]

November 23rd, 2010

I was sitting in a church pew on a March Sunday in 1998.

Imagine: Me, writing that line.

But it’s true. It was a rough time for me, the late winter and spring of ’98. My marriage was finished. For the past 12 years I’d been dealing with panic disorder, agoraphobia, and two or three other coconut maladies. I’d reached the end of my rope.  My twin hobbies of drinking and chasing women were proving to be slightly less than fulfilling. So, I figured I might try something crazy. Prayer.

As far back as age seven, when my second grade teacher, Sister Caelin, told us that we must love god, I’d been skeptical of this whole prayer and creator and piety business. First of all, I kept myself awake half the night for the next three months trying to figure out what the nun meant. How does one love god? I saw g. as some ancient, teed-off crank with a long white beard, a long white robe and sandals, sitting on a cloud-throne somewhere past Orion. I forced myself to imagine showering his cheek with kisses. I figured it was the least I could do, considering he’d snapped his fingers and created the Earth, Europe, the USA, rocks, dinosaurs, Adam & Eve, and the Cubs. I patterned my g.-loving after that which I bestowed upon my own Daddy-o, a similarly distant crank who sat in a recliner with his socks rolled up around his toes. “Kiss your father goodnight,” Ma would command me, so I approached him as if he were a hydrogen bomb that’d just happened to be left in the living room. I brushed my itty-bitty tender lips on his porcupine cheek. He would grunt. I understood that to be how a little kid loved an inscrutable, all-powerful figure. So, in my mind as I lay in bed each night, I’d drag my poor lips over g.’s scratchy beard, squeezing my eyes shut as if to demonstrate how serious I was about this loving god stuff, Sister Caelin’s specter floating overhead, watching me through slitted eyes to make certain not a single cell of my being wasn’t focused on love-love-love-loving the biggest Daddy-o of them all.


Always Mad

Finally, by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around, I said to myself, This is stupid. I have no idea how to love god. In fact, the day before the holiday I’d asked Sister Caelin point blank: “How do you love god?” She gave out one of those patented, mouth-open gasps that nuns loved to do when they were trying to convey to certain kids that they’re rotten and ought to burn in hell. And, I most assuredly, was rotten. She immediately turned her attention to the rest of the class and proclaimed that the love of god was a mystery and only a sinner would question how or why. There was no instruction booklet on how to do it, no secret formula, you just knew it when you were loving god. Great, I thought, you’re a big help.

Sister Caelin turned back to me and ordered me to go to the blackboard at the back of the class and write one hundred times, “I must love god” (with a capital G, of course.) That pretty much cracked it for me with god (little g.)


So for the next 35 or so years I thumbed my nose at the Big Daddy-o and all his fans down here on Earth. But, as I say, things had gotten awfully miserable for me for about a dozen years. I tried every remedy I could think of until in desperation I turned to the putative guy who one day sat there and said to himself, I’m bored; I think I’ll create a Universe.

If you’ve been reading these posts for the last couple of years you know my god-thing didn’t take. To tell the truth, I’m even more anti-Big Daddy-o than ever before. But I do have to concede I got one really fantastic gift from my foray into prayer. That brings us back to that March Sunday in 1998.

The priest was giving his sermon that morning. He seemed a likable guy. Didn’t rail against the filth in the world or tell us we were a bunch of jerks. This priest, whose name I’ve forgotten,  was upbeat — not like a game show host but like the best high school teacher you ever had. And like that one-in-a-million teacher, he left me with something that has stayed with me the rest of my life so far. He said life is good and we were a well-fed, lucky congregation. The vast majority of us didn’t need to worry about the next meal or any predators or whether we were going to freeze that night. That left us only to do that which makes us human, our defining duties in life. “We’re here,” he said, “to love and to hope.”

The minute those words came out of his mouth, I thought, Motherfucker, I’m done. I gotta go. There was, I realized, nothing more that anybody could say or do for me in that place. The rest was all ritual and incense and harridan nuns and big, colorful extravaganzas.

We’re here to love and to hope. I’ve tried to live my life according to those seven words every day since.


I Tried It

I tell this story to illustrate that I’m not so cynical that I believe nobody can get anything of value from the Catholic Church. Even I, the world’s most irreligious human, became a better Homo Sapiens sapiens thanks to a moment spent in a church pew. Some people who read this blog are devoted Catholics. I don’t want to tell them I think their faith is bullshit. It’s getting them through this crazy, mixed-up life. And if they believe a guy threw out some lightning bolts and said Let there be a world with Kim Kardashian and Halliburton and Dancing with the Stars, I won’t quibble with them.

Hot Air

Woe Is Us

Someone who’s reasonably close to me (a blood relative, to tell the truth) sent me another in a series of outraged email blasts last night about how Christians in this holy land are outnumbered and persecuted.

It goes something like this:

1) President Obama canceled America’s traditional National Day of Prayer, “under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone.'” Whatever that means.

2) Next thing you know, President Obama is cool with “a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION.” The caps are not mine, of course. This Muslim prayer fest was supposedly held “on Capitol Hill, beside the White House,” which, alert readers will note, is a location that doesn’t exist. The White House is approximately 1.6 miles from the US Capitol.

3) The e-blast concludes, “I guess it Doesn’t matter If ‘Christians’ Are offended by this event – We obviously Don ‘t count as ‘anyone’ Anymore.” All sic — I make typos in these posts, sure, but nothing this fercockt.

Anyway, the self-pitying going on in these memes is breathtaking. Nobody loves us, the President is out to get us, the Muslims get all the good days of prayer, and, poor us, we’re just nobodies.


I immediately consulted Snopes and PolitiFact and even a site called The Christian Century, all of which debunk the entirety of the email. Thus armed, I began to pound out a response to my relative saying, Sheesh, man, this is all hogwash and, on top of it, if you’re gonna disseminate bald-faced untruths, at least make them a bit contemporary; this particular meme came out in 2012 and was debunked so fast the original emailers’ forefingers hadn’t even come up off the Send button yet.

Then the second thought hit me. You know, I told myself, no matter what I say, my Christian relative isn’t going to believe me. Nor will he change his mind about how President Obama loves the Muslims way better than the poor, poor Christians.

So I deleted the draft response I’d started typing.

Sometimes just shutting up is the best response.

[BTW: Don’t think I’m passive-aggressively speaking to my relative through this post. I’m not. He doesn’t read the Pencil. Poor guy.]

The Wild, Wild West

So, in researching the above entry, I came upon the website of one Allen B. West, who trivia fanatics might recall ran for president in the early Republican primaries in 2012. West is about as wingnutty Right as they come. Rick Santorum prob. reads West’s screeds and goes, “Whoa, dude!”


Allen West

West yesterday wrote about an “outrageous ‘coincidence.'” Apparently, Barack Obama, friend to all Muslims, especially those who behead Westerners, sent some kind of thank you message to a mosque in Oklahoma City “which just happens to be the mosque of the Oklahoma beheader, Alton Nolen.”

Nolen is the guy who allegedly beheaded a co-worker in a Sooner State factory the other week. Naturally, we must conclude President Obama was thanking the members of the mosque for producing one among their number who could slay an innocent American in the most gruesome way imaginable.

West read about this on the thankfully-dead Andrew Breitbart’s “news” site. The equally wingnutty Daily Caller echoed the scoop.


I’d have figured this kind of craziness would have stopped by now. I mean, B. Obama is going to be out of office in a short two and a quarter years. He can’t run again. The Lunatic Right does not need to concoct crazy stories or make illogical leaps about him anymore.

Yet they’re still doing it!

I know this is going to sound odd, coming from a guy who volunteered for the Obama campaign in Kentucky in 2008, but I’m getting to the point where I can’t wait for January 2017 to come around. Assuming, of course, the Far, Far Right will stop spewing their insanity once BHO moves out of the White House. The silence will be golden.

Then again, our next Prez may very well be a woman. Hmm. I may have spoken too soon.

Security Matters

Just to put our current Secret Service scandal in perspective, I guy I know who was born in Germany and still lives half the year there came into the Book Corner today and asked me a simple question:

Do you lock your doors at home?

Why sure, I told him. He said, “I do too.”

See, this fellow’s been away from B-town for a few weeks and he’s just catching up with the national news. The fact that a man climbed the fence surrounding the White House, ran some 75 yards across the lawn, entered the building, and then was able to prance around in the place before he was eventually captured — all the while carrying a knife in his pocket — simply amazed my German acquaintance.

“Why,” he asked, “wasn’t the door locked?”



Sometimes we miss the simplest things when trying to figure out the issues of the day.


Our spy guys have been caught unawares any number of times within the past half century or more.

Sure, we buy into the myth that the world is teeming with spies from many nations, all peeping into office windows and over transoms, learning what the enemy is up to to protect us from some arch-criminal gang that wants to nuke New York or Beijing.

True enough, even I feel better imagining a cadre of loyal Americans who are protecting me, my family and friends, and my fellow citizens from the horror of the mushroom cloud — this despite the fact that it’s virtually impossible for any group other than a rich nation to design, build, maintain, aim, and deliver a nuclear bomb. And even if, say, al Qaeda or ISIS should shoplift a thermonuclear device, their ability to handle it, arm it, fuse it, and make it transform Indianapolis into a gargantuan frying pan just doesn’t exist.

Mushroom Cloud

No Worries

So, the truth of the matter is that our spies’ job pretty much has devolved to making sure the other countries on this planet don’t interfere with our corporations’ ability to do business anywhere they’d like with as little interference as possible. Yet, even in those countries where our business is so important that our armies, air force bases, and aircraft carriers are positioned just so to scare the poo out of their leaders, lest they get funny ideas like, Hey, that oil under our land is really ours, our spies are far worse at their jobs than reporters for TMZ are at theirs.

Otherwise, how to explain the sudden, unforeseen rise of ISIS?

Spies are weirdos. They’re sneaky, good liars, addicted to adrenaline, and willing to undertake operations that just might land them in a foreign prison or killed. They are not tuxedo-clad Lotharios who play baccarat at Monte Carlo and have excruciatingly specific guidelines for how their martinis are mixed.

From "Dr. No"


Also, spies all too often possess the loyalty of a tomcat. Flipping a spy from the other guy’s side to yours is about as easy as opening a tuna can when you hear a meow outside your back door.

This holy land’s spies devote their formidable energies to dirty tricks rather than real intelligence gathering. Let’s bring the discussion down to a more local level. Back in the late 1960s, the Chicago Police Department, like many big city cop ops, ran something called the Red Squad. It was a secret group of cops whose job it was to infiltrate groups whom the city’s bosses had decided were threats to peace and order.

They grew their hair, wore beards, left their badges and service revolvers at home, clad themselves in worn jeans and army fatigue jackets, and tried to mix in with hippie and Yippie protesters. They stood out like sore thumbs. Some leaders of the 1968 Democratic Convention protests even used the Red Squadders assigned to them as drivers.

Knowing this, the Red Squad more and more devoted itself to cultivating rats within the Black Panthers and the SDS. These squealers very often had personal axes to grind. They had vendettas against group leaders they felt had slighted them in some way or who’d stolen their girlfriends even. One or two of them were flat-out nuts — as in, certifiably insane.

Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by police and FBI agents along with one other man one early December morning only after he’d been dosed with a strong tranquilizer by a rat the Red Squad had on its payroll within the organization.

That same guy earlier had suggested the Panthers buy an anti-tank missile launcher and fire it at the fifth-floor City Hall office of Mayor Richard J. Daley. The other Panthers told him he was deranged.

Back on the national and international level, America’s spies organized and paid for Iran’s 1954 revolution, tried to sneak an exploding cigar in Fidel Castro’s humidor, assassinated the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and Chile’s Salvador Allende, hectored Martin Luther King in hopes he’d commit suicide, and otherwise engaged in capers like dosing American citizens with LSD, just for the fun of it. They armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan, propped up Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and did their best to subvert Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

All the while they were missing some awfully key developments: the loyalty that Ho Chi Minh was engendering among most Vietnamese, the planning of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that led to the 9/11 attacks, the threat posed by the underwear- and shoe-bombers before they boarded US airliners — the list goes on and on.

I, for one, would like a little more intelligence coming from our intelligence community rather than hijinks straight out of a dimestore novel.

Our Father, Who Aren’t In Heaven…

Just a little reminder for those who insist on claiming that atheism is a religion:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.19.53 PM

Um, no, it isn’t.

Glibberty Glabberty Gibberish

Charter Pencillista Shayne Laughter told me the other day she was talking about this communications colossus with her mother when the two of them began laughing uproariously. See, they’d fallen into trying to say the words “Glab’s blog” five times in a row, fast.

Try it yourself.

I think I’ve just hit upon the Pencil’s new marketing slogan!

Awesome Hot Air

God is all around me.

And it’s bugging me. You know as well as I do how pervasive the old bird is.

Well, not exactly him, but his messengers and agents. He has priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, lamas, and a whole raft of other paid flacks. On top of that he depends on millions and millions — wait, billions — of unpaid volunteers who are more than happy to crow about what a swell dude he is. Perhaps only The Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia has a publicity machine as widespread.

God's Guys

Brand Strategists

Walk into any diner and order a cola. When the waitperson repeats your order, s/he’ll say, “And you wanted a Coke, right?”

Right. Even if it’s a Faygo or a Pepsi, it’s a Coke.

Same with the Big Daddy-o in the Sky. Whenever a legislative body wants to initiate proceedings for the day, it calls in Christ’s vicar or G_d’s interpreter to start the festivities off right. Whenever a plane crashes or a lunatic opens fire in a shopping mall, people climb all over each other to say the Big Boy himself was responsible for any survivors. Hell, I sneezed the other day and some woman said, “God bless you.”

He’s everywhere.

Only he’s not. Like Bob Dylan, he’s not there.

And, like Dylan, his reputation is based on layers upon layers of bombast and myth.

There is no Bob Dylan, as you well know. There is a fellow named Robert Allen Zimmerman, born May 24, 1941, who one day decided to market himself by borrowing the given name of the poet Dylan Thomas and adopting it as his surname.

Both Bob Dylan and god have had spectacularly trenchant and brilliant mots attributed to them. These pearls of verbiage, though, have been largely excavated from under massive piles of nonsensical and silly pronouncements.

Maybe Bob Dylan is god.

Blake's God/Dylan

Separated At Birth?

Nah. Can’t be. Because there is no god.

The godly among the populace will counter that it is the height of presumption for me to say such a thing. Pious logicians will argue that I cannot definitively assert the non-existence of something. To which I might respond, Okay, you guys have had some 50,000 years (yup, humans in the Upper Paleolithic Period worshiped a god) to prove the Large Lummox created everything and is concerned with love, peace, war, and the result of yesterday‘s Monday Night Football game. You haven’t yet.

Carl Sagan famously told about the fire-breathing dragon in his garage. Prove that it isn’t there, he said. Guess what: You can’t.

Then the believers will cluck their tongues and shake their heads. How sad, they’ll lament, that you’re so lacking in awe and wonder. Your world is empty and prosaic. They’ll tell me that when they look at the petals of a flower they see the handiwork of the creator. When I look at it, I see a bionic machine. Such an emotionally empty experience.

Not so. For instance, I could hardly get to sleep last night after reading about astronomers’ latest supposition that tens of billions of stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy host Earth-like planets in their Goldilocks Zones (that is, the area around them that is just right for terrestrial type life to develop in.)

Habitable Zone

Dig: One of the astronomers who studied the results of a four-year Kepler Space Telescope search for Earth-like exo-planets was driven to ejaculations of Oh, Wows by what he’d learned. Here’s Erik Petigura of the University of California-Berkeley:

When you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing.

So tonight, I’m going out in the backyard to look at the dark sky. Weather permitting, I’ll see dozens and dozens of stars up above. If I feel really ambitious, I might take the five minute drive down to Lake Monroe, where the sky is even darker, so I can see many more stars. And as I watch them twinkle, the odds are overwhelming that I’m seeing, as it were, the homes of countless civilizations that communicate, reproduce, fight, discover, share, and play football. Maybe even baseball, if their intelligence is advanced enough.

And I will be in awe. My imagination will run wild. I’ll try to think about what those creatures look like. I’ll ponder the near-impossibility of humans ever visiting them. I’ll hope for the much more likely chance that we’ll exchange messages, perhaps soon.

Radio Telescope Array

“Are You There?”

The feeling I’ll have will easily be as profound as that of someone who marvels that god let that plane go down, with several hundred poor souls burned to a crisp and torn limb from limb, but decided, because he is loving, to spare one little tot.

This I guarantee: My awe will be far more holy than that of the football fan or the tight end who was certain god deigned that the Bears beat the Packers last night.

Spirit In The Sky

The Pencil Today:


“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” ” Richard Dawkins


So, some god fetishist who got fired from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for haranguing people with his myth-belief is suing NASA for wrongful termination.

David Coppedge says NASA tried to discipline him for spouting his fairy tale.

NASA says he created a hostile work environment for his underlings by laying Intelligent Design propaganda on them.

This is perfect, kiddies.

It’s the Battle of the Century. That is, the 11th Century versus the 21st Century.

Standing Tall Against Knowledge For A Thousand Years And Counting

Democritus, Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, and Sagan are all spinning in their graves. Hawking would spin if he could.

It’s god versus man in a cage match. The brain against the heart. Want a hint as to where I stand (as if you needed one)? The brain is the seat of thought; the heart is not. It’s a pump, dig?

I hope this lawsuit turns out to be as dramatic as the Scopes Monkey Trial some 90 years ago. I hope there’s a mouthpiece as deft and elequent as Clarence Darrow was. I hope NASA’s attorney puts Coppedge‘s lawyer on the witness stand. I can’t wait for the hologram movie about it all to come out in 50 years.

Who knows? Perhaps by that time we’ll have progressed so far as to tax churches. We may even have open atheists and agnostics running for high office. Our generals might not feel compelled to invoke the almighty to help us blow the brains out of enemy soldiers.


I forgot; this is America.


My old neighbor Rod R. Blagojevich gave his last press conference as a free man outside his home in Chicago yesterday.

The former governor of Illinois now begins his long stay at the federal hotel in Colorado. Or, as Outfit bosses used to put it, college. — as in, “Paul ‘The Waiter’ Ricca is still da man in dis operation, but he’s in college right now. Curly Humphreys is workin’ his ass off tryin’ to get him paroled.”

It’s funny: that’s the one thing Blagojevich was never accused of — playing footsie with the Chicago Mob. That’s probably only because the Chicago Mob was finished by the time Blago took over the state. Over. History, baby.

All the old Mustache Petes were long dead. Those who had been known as the Young Turks were either dead, senile, or in college.

“The Last Supper” Photo Of Chicago Outfit Bosses (c. 1978)

Rod could have cleaned up had there been a lively Outfit to support him in his duties to the people of Illinois. The Outfit generally had county, state, and, on occasion, federal prosecutors in their back pockets. Judges and cops, too. Old Man Mayor Daley, the first pharaoh of Chicago, never made any bones about it — he had no choice but to work with the Outfit.

Now, thanks to the wonders of competitive capitalism, a Chicago mayor may work with any number of disciplined criminal organizations. There are, to name a few, the Latin Kings, the Vice Lords, and the Black P Stones. None of them, though, is as thorough and effective as the old Outfit.

None can point to their rolls and boast of a fixer as capable of gaming the political and justice system as Curly Humphreys.

Fixer Extraordinaire

I’ll bet Rod Blagojevich rues the passing of the good old days.

Anyway, Blagojevich met the press and a passel of chanting supporters on Francisco Avenue yesterday. It was a circus. And Rod was the clown.

You’d expect a guy facing a stiff prison sentence to act somewhat contrite. Hell, most people would have the good sense to fake it if they still harbored thoughts of the unfairness of it all.

Not Rod.

He sounded more like a man running for another term in office rather than a convicted felon about to start a term in the joint.

What — Me Worry?

“I believe,” he told the crowd, “I always, always, thought about what’s right for the people. And I am proud as I leave, and enter the next part of what is a dark and hard journey, that I can take with me the sense of accomplishment and a real belief that the things that I did as governor and the things that I did as a congressman actually helped real, ordinary people…. One thing I had a lot of was a desire to help average, ordinary people.”

Later, as he climbed into the car that would take him to O’Hare Airport and his flight to the federal pen, he said he had “a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future.”


Not a hint that he might have done one or two things differently during his term as the top influence peddler in Illinois. Not a breath that he even should have tempered his language, that maybe his faux tough guy, street wise lingo could have been misinterpreted. No.

“I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m gonna do it. And, and I can always use it.”

Blagojevich spent his last day as a free man telling reporters, neighbors, and supporters what a terrific servant of the people he’s always been.


I’ll tell you one thing I learned yesterday. Blagojevich’s defense attorney, Sam Adam Jr., blew his best shot to get his client off. He should have advised Rod R. Blagojevich to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Pencil Today:


So, I’m on the alert for lightning bolts directed at me right now because I hereby present one Penn Gillette, one of my fave people on Earth, rating the presidential candidates on their friendliness toward — cringe! — atheists.

I’m not really trying to cause trouble here (oh, alright, yes I am) but a little balance is in order, no?

The Fox News rightists had apoplexy a week and a half ago when President Obama neglected to mention the all-powerful sugar daddy during his annual Thanksgiving message to the nation. Those campaigning to become president and those fortunate — or unfortunate — enough to become one rarely miss an opportunity to thank their sky-dwelling BFF.

Anybody who hopes to become president has to believe in god, still, today, some 300 years after the Age of Enlightenment and nearly 130 years after Neitzsche pronounced, “Gott ist tot” (god is dead.)

Me? I’m looking for the first prez aspirant who, well, doesn’t believe.

There’s your balance.


Hey, PolitiFact, the website that vets political statements and claims, has released its 2011 Lie of the Year Finalists. The lucky contestants include Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Facebook posters who claimed Republicans have proposed “zero job creation” legislation, and — horrors! — Barack Obama.

Go there and vote. It’s fun.


Here’s a good song for your Saturday morning, by Tommy James and the Shondells. It made the charts during that magical summer of 1969.

And just to show what a broad-minded fellow I am, it mentions, um, y’know, that big guy in the sky.

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