Yesterday’s terrifying events in Boston remind us that by witnessing death, we the survivors have an obligation to embrace and celebrate life.
We are all victims of this tragedy together, just as we were all victims of other horrible events before from our recent past. We share the pain and suffering of strangers. We share a sense of loss of losing people we did not know. But we knew them well. They could have been us.
Mere reflection is not enough. Sometimes, thought must give way to action. And sometimes action requires personal courage — even deviance.
But what precisely can we do? How can anyone make a difference? How can we bear witness such a savage act of cruelty and then take something inspirational from that experience that makes us feel better and perhaps even stronger?
Step one is to do something bold. Perhaps even new. Indeed, mass victimization of acts of terror stems from feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it. Events get cancelled. We chose not to do certain things. We become paralyzed. It’s as though we must accept our helpless fate and hope bad things won’t happen to us or those we love in the future. But facing a modern world filled with random evil, we can never quite be certain of our fate, even as we draw in our next breath.
Caught in the web of a world of random dangers and legitimate fears that any of us might be next, what actions might we take that enable us to both honor those who are gone and celebrate those who remain alive and living?
I think I’ve discovered an answer. Keven and Beth Garrett appear to have the best response to this question that I’ve heard in a long time.
I’m often asked, “why bother with religion? Why not instead just let believers pray as they do, and leave them alone?
Oh, how I wish that were possible. If only things were only that simple. If only there was such an option — I’d take it.
Trouble is, we don’t have that option.
We anti-theists/agnostics/atheists can’t sit idly by and “let them pray.” We can’t “leave them alone” — for one simple reason. Because they won’t “leave us alone.”
The religious faithful insist on invading every sphere of our human existence. They demand totalitarian control over what we do, and how we think. They demand absolute servitude, not only to their god but to a narrow set of twisted customs and belief systems prescribed during an ancient era when the worldwide consensus was the earth was flat and deadly diseases were caused by curses. In short, religious practitioners not only invade our space and attempt to alter our consciousness, they also desire to be our lawgiver, our landlord, and — should we break their commandments — our executioner for eternal damnation.
We anti-theists promise to remain open-minded. We even welcome the opportunity to debate, although we’re rarely given the chance. We’re willing to let believers think and do entirely as they wish. They can worship, so long as they don’t expect us to live in the same imaginary temple.
To my religious friends: You can worship your god if you so chose. Please, go ahead. You can attend your church. Please, do so. Just don’t ask the rest of us to pay for your roads, bridges, utilities, power lines, and sewers that service your houses of superstition — and then have the audacity to demand tax exemptions.
We’ll even let you poison the minds of your own families. Personally, I think there should be a period of compulsive non-religious education, in other words, something other than church indoctrination. But I’m willing to concede to your law-given parental right to shackle your children’s minds and buckle their brains to your own religious mythology. As horrific as the prospect is of cult mythology passed from one generation to the next, I’m willing to let you incubate your offspring with the idolization of angels and the giant sky daddy — that is if you’ll simply let the other children be educated according to science and evidence.
Let’s agree to meet in the middle, shall we? I’ll grant you your rights. But your rights end where my home, my brain, and my desires begin. I won’t violate your space if you don’t violate mine.
But religion won’t go for this. Unfortunately, those of you who support religion not only violate my space. You steamroller over it.
Worse, religious beliefs aren’t merely pronounced from the pulpit. In fact, they are written into our laws. They tell us what we can and cannot do. They determine curriculum inside our classrooms. They even guide our foreign policy with the rest of the world.
Consider areas of your private life where religion has invaded your personal space and denied you the option of making a decision for yourself:
— Religion seeks to sanction who can and cannot marry.
— Religion seeks to deny women the right to control of their own bodies.
— Religion seeks to restrict scientific research and inhibit potential advances in medicine.
— Religion seeks to alter the teaching of science.
— Religion seeks to censor free speech and artistic expression
— Religion seeks to control our sexual behavior — including who has sex with who to which sex acts are acceptable.
— Religion aims to prohibit the legalization of drugs.
— Religion aims to prohibit the sale or consumption of alcohol during certain hours, on some days, and in various areas.
— Religion seeks to ban and criminalize online poker and gambling. It opposes gambling in any form when it appears as an option for voters.
— Religion seeks to ban pornography and sexually-explicit businesses.
— Religion seeks to deny you the right to die, even if you’re suffering unbearable pain.
— Religion hijacks foreign policy away from self-interest in order to serve what are alleged to be holy instructions.
But religion isn’t necessarily against everything. Churches and religious institutions — and those who support them — are for lots of things. They overwhelmingly favor policies some might even consider hypocritical.
Here’s a short list of things religion (and religious people) tend to favor:
— Religion favors the death penalty.
— Religion favors guns, even the most deadly weapons of assault.
— Religion favors and enthusiastically supports wars, as long as we’re killing the right people.
— Religion favors censorship.
— Religion favors the imposition of restrictions on things most people enjoy — like drinking, gambling, and sex.
— Religion favors an economic system whereby corporations and the wealthy can enrich themselves at the cost of the rest of society.
— Religion favors the use of animals as consumable objects to be used and then discarded.
— Religion favors the exploitation of nature and environment purely for consumption and profit.
— Religion favors methods of torture in the name of national defense.
— Religion favors colonialism, military theatrics, and preemptive aggression.
— Religion tends to vehemently oppose other (rival) religions, resulting in hate and hostility.
Most of these generalities apply to modern-day Christianity. Associated faith-based movements profess unwavering support for individual freedom. Moreover, they rally against government involvement in the lives of ordinary citizens. Yet when it comes to enforcing their moral codes, these same groups trumpeting individual freedom fall right into line with extremists in other religions. Let’s call them for what they are — Taliban-light. They want government everywhere — from our bars to our bedrooms.
Of course, this argument pales in comparison to even more troubling concerns. As abominable as religious beliefs and believers often are, they’re only a fraction of the transcontinental state of repression and terror inflicted by the Islamic religion on the often powerless citizenry within many Muslim societies. Judeo-Christian life might be considered downright blasphemous compared to these extreme theocracies where half the population are second-class citizens and terror is an instrument of conversion to the faith.
That said, it’s hardly a virtue for Christians to rightly claim in their defense — “at least we’re not as bad as them.”
Since I don’t believe in religion, what do I believe in? What do I stand for? What virtues are worth a fight? Actually, I am a believer — though not in god or the supernatural nor superstition.
MY PERSONAL MANIFESTO
My “religion” is based on the virtues of humanism. This means….
1. Individual enlightenment and personal fulfillment
2. True equality and opportunity — equality regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race
3. Love for humanity, animals, and the environment
4. Freedom of speech, open exchange of ideas, and artistic expression (even if it offends me)
5. Cooperation, not competition and conflict
6. Constant curiosity and exploration, which includes open discussion and dialogue (about any subject)
7. The belief that bigger, faster, and newer does not always mean better
8. The application of logic to all questions
9. Education based on science and fact
10. The repudiation of lies, censorship, patience, faith, religion, and superstition.
The Old Testament is the most harmful book ever written.
By “harmful,” I mean detrimental to humanity.
It’s the foundation for most Judeo-Christian faith. Many Jews and Christians believe The Old Testament is the literal word of God. Every letter, word, phrase, and paragraph was bolted to the printed page as a pronouncement straight from the deity. It’s what he wants. It’s his plan. It’s his “how to” playbook.
If this horrible book really stands as the literal word of God, then someone’s got some explaining to do.
The Old Testament is a literary circus of ludicrous assertions and contradictions. If logic is our stick, The Old Testament can be busted open easier than a pinata at a Mexican birthday party. Filled with voluminous passages which flat out justify intolerance, racism, slavery, torture, and even murder, these noxious texts have served as guideposts of wickedness for centuries. They are in fact, perilous detours away from the highway of rationality and reason.
Before, these texts were cited to justify horrible crimes against humanity, including the Inquisition and the Crusades. Now, they’re used to deny equality, preserve monocracy, and inhibit science. But what stands far and away as the most troublesome fruition of these religions is the clear and compulsory stipulation of intolerance.
Writer’s Note: This is a continuation of PART 1 and PART 2, which can be read here.
Con artists are intriguing. Swindlers fascinate us.
Witnessing a crime where the tools of the trade consist of pure intellect and brass balls is infinitely more entertaining than watching a petty stick up. Alas, if the pen is mightier than the sword, then shrewdness is mightier still.
My phone rang Wednesday morning at 7:30 am. An ungodly hour.
“I’ve got his baseball plays,” the voice on the other end said. It was Peter Falcone. “He’s got seven plays today. How many can you take?”
A weary-eyed shuffle over to the computer ensued. I could easily get down $3,000 a game. Even better, since Pinnacle was one of my offshore betting sites, I could save Falcone’s jeweler contact a hundred or two a game on losses, due to their reduced vig. Most middlemen would have dicked the unsuspecting sap on the betting end. But that’s no way to do business — especially with an effortless upside guaranteed already.
“Oh wow, he’s going to love you for that! He’s going to be very excited when he hears the prices he’s getting is better than he’s expecting and are in his favor!”
A short tutorial on sports betting is needed here. Most baseball books deal what’s called a 20-cent line. That means two opposing teams which are listed at “pick ’em” are lined at the price of $11o to win $100. If you add the difference between the two numbers, that’s 20 cents, thus the term “20 cent line.” However, a game that might have Cleveland -140 / Kansas City +120 elsewhere would be lined at Pinnacle at a discounted vig price — perhaps at Cleveland -136 / Kansas City +129.
Well, with Pinnacle, I was sometimes getting close to a 10-cent line. That meant the jeweler was getting the best price on the planet. A few cents a game might not seem like a big deal. But it is. Multiply a hundred losses by an extra $150 in vig on each game, and that’s fifteen grand over the course of a baseball season.
“He’s going to love you!” Falcone shouted.
The plays were posted. Without much of a forethought, I’d fired about $21,000 worth of betting action. I hung up the phone and went back to bed totally oblivious to the fact that my sports betting ship had just blasted into an iceberg. And here I was, dozing away inside the cabin totally unaware I’d soon be in need of a lifeboat. No one could possibly foresee the disaster about to come.
Later that night, I logged into my Pinnacle account. I was delighted to see I was ahead something like $11,800 on the day. The New York jeweler had gone 5-2, and made a quick 12 dimes. Talk about easy money. If only I continued what I was doing and the man broke even from this point forward until Sunday, I’d collect my share which was $1,000 — plus ten percent of the profit. Theoretically, I was up $2,180 which was my cut alone. And I hadn’t done a fucking thing.
Goddamn, this was sweet.
I was tempted to ask Falcone if he knew of any more New York jewelers.
Writer’s Note: This is a continuation of PART 1, which can be read here.
There’s no suspense here. You know how this is going to end. Badly.
Before continuing with the next chapter in the Peter Falcone caper, let me introduce yet another dubious character to the story. The plot is about to thicken.
Meet Louis Jones — a pudgy piece of puke from Houston.
Louis Jones is an ex-floorman. He mostly worked the southern poker tournament circuit, primarily in Mississippi (Tunica, Biloxi, Gulfport). Over the years, Louis Jones and I worked several major poker events together. About eight years ago, we discovered a mutual interest in sports betting and — as you might guess — a special “friendship” began. About a year later, Louis Jones ended up stiffing me for $20,000.
Although they both fucked me over royally, Louis Jones and Peter Falcone are completely different animals. Louis Jones is a lying deadbeat. Peter Falcone is a psychopathic con man.
Basically, Louis Jones skipped out on $20,000 worth of sports wagers with me (no, I didn’t book his gambling action — which would have been illegal). One thing about owing money. I don’t mind someone owing me money, just so long as the borrower acknowledges the debt on occasion, and then makes some effort to pay it over time. I’ve had people who owed money pay me $50 a week. At least an effort was made. How can you argue with someone who’s making a genuine effort? That’s everything to me. In fact, if I see someone who doesn’t have any money making an earnest effort to pay off a gambling debt, in a strange sense that shows even more character.
But while a character, Louis Jones has no character. He fucked me in the ass with a telephone pole. He lied to me over and over again, and then was never man enough to simply approach me and say, “I fucked up, Nolan. I’m really sorry.” Louis Jones never said those words to me. I’m told that he eventually wormed his way back to Houston, and was last reported working as a used car salesman — a most fitting job for the cocksucker.