Monday, September 29, 2008

Conference on New Atheism at Millsaps College

Richard DawkinsImage by Kanaka's Paradise Life via FlickrMillsaps College (Jackson, MS) is doing a "hot topics" series through their continuing education program. They describe the series as follows:
This is a series of one-day conferences on controversial, confusing, and important issues of our day. Each program in the series covers a major current hot topic with discussion led by Millsaps professors and invited expert speakers.
Sounds very cool. Even cooler, the next one is on the "new" atheism. Here is how they describe it:
Over the past few years books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have hit the best-seller lists promoting atheism as the only rational and moral way to live. Called the “new atheism” because of it resurgence and popularity, it has attracted a great deal of attention. But is there anything “new” about it? Are there new scientific discoveries or political realities that provide new evidence for atheism? Or is it all old ideas with new marketing? Join us as we cover all this, including the history of atheism, the current influence and power of atheism, and the strength of the “new atheist” arguments.
The conference will be held on Saturday, October 18, 2008, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and costs only $30. For more information, contact Dr. Patrick Hopkins (601-974-1293). To register, contact Continuing Education (601-974-1130). You can also find a registration form here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

FEMA Ignores Mississippi After Hurricane Gustav

Federal Emergency Management AgencyImage via WikipediaThe Associated Press is reporting that Gov. Barbour's request for individual assistance for homeowners in Mississippi who experienced damage during Hurricane Gustav are being ignored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Mississippi residents have received no federal aid to repair hundreds of waterlogged homes from Hurricane Gustav, leaving homeowners to wonder if they have been left high and dry.
There were areas of our state which were damaged by Gustav, and it is puzzling that residents in these areas have been ignored. I wonder if this would be happening if Mississippi was not already considered to be in the bag for McCain?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vote For Your Life Concert in Jackson

Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson performing at t...Image via WikipediaVote for Your Life, a free concert and voter registration drive, will be held at Smith Park in Jackson on Saturday, September 27, from 3pm to 9pm. Artists performing include Cassandra Wilson, Rhonda Richmond, Kamikaze and Storage 24. The event is cosponsored by Senator John Horhn, Cassandra Wilson, and the Jackson Free Press. You can find contact information via the Jackson Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

Obama Wins Oxford Debate

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 25:  Rehearsals for the...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeI watched the first presidential debate with great interest. Oxford has been focused on the debate for awhile, and it was nice to see that McCain decided to show up. I've already posted my thoughts on the debate while I was watching it, and I won't repeat them here. It now appears that both polls and political analysts have called the debate a win for Obama. That Obama won the debate on foreign policy, supposedly McCain's strength, is great news for those of us hoping to avoid a McCain/Palin presidency.

The part of this debate that most captured my attention was the first half in which the focus was largely on America's current economic crisis. This was where Obama was most impressive, and McCain simply did not have answers.

The Bush-Kerry debates taught me that looking good in a debate does not necessarily win one the presidency (Kerry) and that coming across like a moron does not necessarily lose the election (Bush). Thus, my optimism remains guarded about Obama's chances. I did not see anything last night that leads me to change my prediction that McCain will win in November.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oxford Debate Back On

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 25:  Rehearsals for the...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeAs recently as last night, there were serious questions about whether John McCain would show up for the debate in Oxford tonight. Early this morning, the University of Mississippi was planning an Obama Town Hall if McCain was a no show. Now it appears that McCain is resuming the campaign he abruptly suspended it yesterday and indicating that he will be in Oxford tonight. I don't get to say this very often, but I agree with George Will that McCain lacks the temperament to be an effective president.

To find a debate party near you, visit Cotton Mouth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Banned Books Week in Jackson

From the ACLU of Mississippi:
Banned Books Week is observed annually as a reminder not to take the freedom to read for granted. This year Jackson will celebrate Banned Books Week at Store (4506 Office Park Drive) on Monday, September 29, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Come here local celebrities read from their favorite banned books.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: Secularity and State

Vectorized Southern Baptist Convention logo, d...Image via WikipediaI am thrilled that people in the community have found this blog and are giving me feedback. A pastor at the First Baptist Church in Oxford sent me an e-mail saying that he found the blog post where I discussed my first visit to that church. He wanted to invite me back for their series titled "God and Politics." This is my first invitation from a local church to attend service. The topic of church and state interests me, so I e-mailed back to accept his invitation, adding that I would probably write about it.

The pastor that invited me lead the music. He played several beautiful songs by an acoustic guitar. It was heartfelt and reminded me of the same music found at the Episcopal church. As most of you know who have been following this series, I can appreciate religious music. I would like to tell him that I enjoyed those songs and the words he shared in between.

When the senior pastor got up to share his message, the tone of the service changed to that of evangelical politics. His talk was centered on the theme of "speaking out". He talked about many things, some of which were offensive to me. He spoke of things that were disparaging of secularists, and I will not repeat those words here. He made claims regarding homosexuality that are not supported by any scientific research. He held a position that issues such as homosexuality and abortion were non-negotiable, while other issues should be debated and studied because they were more complex. His view was that those of us who disagree on these non-negotiable issues have loose morals. In addition to the position of the Southern Baptists on the separation of church and state, he advocated a "separation of secularity and state." He did not preach a message to inspire people to make their lives better; it was a message to rally this church into the voting booth based on misconceptions about homosexuality and abortion. This group has the unfortunate name of "Values Voters".

I was upset by the message. I will not be going back. Instead, I'm going to take this moment while these things are fresh on my mind and do something positive: I'm make a small donation to a group supporting reproductive freedom.

(My original draft of this post was 4 times longer and tried to go point by point with the lesson. I realized that was too much. You are glad, I'm sure.)

UPDATE: The First Baptist Church of Oxford has updated their Sermon Podcast Series so that you may hear for yourself.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic in Pine Belt

adopt scubbie in jackson, mississippi! (still ...Image by venusnaturalis via Flickr Mississippi Spay and Neuter will be in the Pine Belt providing low-cost spay and neuter services two days each month. If you have a cat or dog and have been unable to afford this procedure, call 866-901-7729 for more information or for an appointment. You can learn more about this important service provided by MS SPAN on their website at They serve multiple areas of Mississippi, so check their website about how to contact them in your area.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reproductive Freedom at Risk in Mississippi

The seal of the United States Department of He...Image via WikipediaA woman's right to reproductive freedom is under assault in Mississippi. In August, the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services proposed regulations which could restrict access to even basic reproductive health services, including birth control. So much for Republicans being about small government and deregulation! Of particular relevance to readers of this blog, the proposed rules emphasize religious belief over health care needs. In fact, the proposal allows health care providers to deny women access to birth control based on their religious beliefs. Time is quickly running out on the period of public comment, which ends on September 25. Take action here while time is left.

Why is this so important? According to the ACLU of Mississippi,
The rule leaves open the possibility that – based on religious beliefs – health care providers, including hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmacies, could deny women access to birth control. In addition, the rule may permit health care providers to withhold information and counseling about a wide range of health care services, including birth control and abortion.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Presidential Debates Come to Mississippi

US Senator Barack Obama campaigning in New Ham...Image via WikipediaOn Friday, September 26, the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain will be held at Ole Miss. The Mississippi Democratic Party will be in Oxford for most of the week, organizing several days worth of events to promote their candidates. Below is information about several of the events they have planned.


Tuesday, Sept. 23:

Sponsor: College Democrats, Mississippi Democratic Party
Event: News Conference
Time: TBA
Location: TBA

Wednesday, Sept. 24:

Sponsor: Mississippi Democratic Party
Location: TBA
Time: TBA

Thursday, Sept. 25:

Sponsor: Mississippi Democratic Party, Young Democrats of Mississippi
Location: Oxford Activity Center, 400 Price St., Oxford, Miss.
Time: 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Admission: Free
Contact: Terry R. Cassreino, [email protected] or Wendi Hooks, [email protected] or (601) 454-7419

Friday, Sept. 26:

Sponsor: Mississippi Federation of Democratic Women
Location: Oxford Conference Center, 102 Ed Perry Blvd., Oxford
Time: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Admission: $25 each or $12.50 for students with identification
Speaker: TBA

Friday, Sept. 26:

Sponsor: Mississippi Democratic Party, Obama for America, Young Democrats of Mississippi, United Steelworkers, Communication Workers of America,
Location: Oxford Activity Center, 400 Price St., Oxford, Miss.
Time: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
Admission: Free
Food and drink: Free
Seating: Limited availability, reserve in advance
Contact: Terry R. Cassreino, [email protected] or Wendi Hooks , [email protected] or (601) 454-7419

Sponsor: Mississippi Democratic Party
Location: Home of William R. Wheeler, 1700 Jefferson Ave., Oxford, Miss.
Time: 9 p.m.-11 p.m.
Tickets: $1,000 each, available through
(Finance Council members - contact Wendi)
Contact: Wendi M. Hooks, (601) 969-2913 or [email protected]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Literary Nature of the Bible Seminar

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...Image via WikipediaFor those who might be interested: The literary nature of the Bible at The Church of the Ascension in Hattiesburg, MS.

The Literary Nature of the Bible: Jameela Lares, Professor of English at USM, will present four lectures on the Bible as literature on consecutive Tuesdays at 6 pm at Ascension, beginning September 23. While the Bible is the sacred text which instructs Christian doctrine and beliefs, it is also a work of literature. Most of its books are full of stories, riddles, poems and even epics. Its study as literature can open doors to a deeper understanding of the Bible and its teachings. The four sessions will be an Introduction, Narrative in the Old Testament, Poetry in the Old Testament, and forms in the New Testament. Dr. Lares, who received her PhD from the University of Southern California, is a Milton scholar and has research and teaching interests in the English Renaissance, 17th Century literature, the Bible and Biblical style, and the history of rhetoric including English Reformed preaching.

The Wife, who attends the other Episcoplain church in town, got this in her email newsletter. It sounds interesting to me, and frankly Anglicans are pretty damn cool people to hang out with. I plan on going. The Bible may be worthless as truth, much less Truth, but it still has a profound impact on our society and perhaps there is real literary value in it someplace. Lord knows (pun intended) it's inspired some breathtaking art of all kinds.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: Oasis Church of All Nations at Oxford

Sarah Palin and the Wasilla Church of GodImage by publik18 via Flickr Governor Sarah Palin attends the Wasilla Assembly of God in Wasilla, AK, a member of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. I don't know anything about the Assemblies of God, so now is my chance to visit a new church and learn about a vice presidential candidate's faith. Using the AG website, I was able to find the "Oasis Church of All Nations" here in Oxford. They don't have their meeting times posted anywhere, so I showed up last Sunday at around 9 AM only to find out the meeting time was 10 AM. Here's a tip: If you want me to show up at your church, make the meeting times possible to find.

Everyone was overly friendly. I shook hands with probably a dozen people. They all made me feel welcome. The preacher handed me their magazine "The World for You Today". I walked around the church for a little bit then left to run errands until 10 AM. When I came back, they handed me the church's homemade CD. Putting multimedia in the hands of a visitor is a good idea. I've been listening to this church's music all afternoon.

I estimate about 70 people were in attendance and the band had 8 members. I was surprised at the racial makeup of the group: it was split evenly with whites and blacks and a few other members of different ethnic backgrounds. This was a pleasant change from past churches.

I took a seat on the back pew of the auditorium. Someone came up to me and asked, "Did you get a copy of the CD?" "Yes sir," I replied. "PRAISE GOD!" he shouted back. God should be praised because I got a CD?

The service began with a greeter asking everyone to stand up to praise God. The band started playing a song to get the group fired up. There was plenty of hand clapping and shouting. A praise ballerina danced all around the auditorium. Between songs, there was a prayer. During each prayer, several people in the audience began shouting in gibberish speak. One woman appeared to be possessed by a spirit who kept shouting "Praise me, praise me!" followed by a lot of gibberish speak. The service stopped until the "spirit" had left her. This cycle of 15 minutes of music followed by prayers in gibberish speak went on for 50 minutes. Then the service leader shouted, "You may be seated in the House of God!" My legs were starting to give out. I noticed that many of the elderly members took the liberty of sitting much sooner. The ballerina had been dancing for 50 minutes almost continuously.

The service leader said that it was now the time for meeting and greeting with others. Usually this last 30 seconds in other churches, but the band played a full five minute song while everyone got up and started conversing with one another. It was a miniature party that broke out in the middle of church. Kids were running around the room and everyone left their seats. Organized and friendly chaos. We were all called back to our seats again.

The preacher gave his lesson titled "Stewardship: Stealing is wrong." It was a simple lesson on tithing. If you don't tithe, then you are stealing from God (I'm paraphrasing). He challenged everyone to "Put God to the test!" by tithing and cited the reward found in Malachi 3:10. I had always been told that testing God was apparently a bad thing, but I guess it's okay when you test him by giving the church more tax-exempt money. Needless to say, this is when the offering plate was passed. (I've yet to attend church that did it out of order.)

After the first lecture, there were some announcements, and then the preacher's wife got up to speak. This was the same woman who was possessed by the spirit earlier. The spirit was apparently gone now, because she gave her lesson in regular English. Her talk was titled "Commitment verses Complacency." It was mostly personal testimony. A different woman felt the need to shout "Jesus" every few minutes during her talk. After hearing her talk for way too long, I was hoping for another spirit possession so I could hear more of that gibberish speak.

At noon the service ended and I've had my quota of wacky for the day. The ballerina and the spirit possession did it for me. I don't have the same experiences as Governor Bobby Jindal, but I'm pretty sure that spirit possession represents either clever acting or a mental condition. If Governor Sarah Palin believes in spirit possession, then I seriously question her mental fitness with regard to the challenges faced by running the country.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Televised Debate for Senate

Ronnie MusgroveImage via Wikipedia The Sun-Herald is reporting that there will be a televised debate between Republican Roger Wicker and Democrat Ronnie Musgrove on October 3rd. The debate will be held in Jackson at the Mississippi College School of Law and is expected to be broadcast statewide. This is an important Senate race for our state because the winner replaces Trent Lott in the Senate. It will be good to see Musgrove and Wicker in action.

H/T to Cotton Mouth

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Church and State Billboards around Oxford, MS

There are at least 5 billboards around Oxford, Mississippi that have the same look and feel and overtly push the idea that our government should be a Christian one. While I was visiting a church today I took pictures of 3 of them.

Schools must teach the Excellency of the Christian Religion above all others, ancient or modern. -James Madison

I can find no attribution of this quote to James Madison anywhere. I have found a quote containing the phrase "Excellency of the Christian Religion" attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, a deist, did give lip service to Christianity, which seems to be a common trend with the founding fathers.

Whatever strikes at the root of Christianity tends to destroy civil government. -Supreme Court, 1811

This one was a tad confusing, but I'll try to give my best interpretation. This quote did not come from the Supreme Court of the United States. The quote came from the opinion of Judge Robert Raymond in 1729 when he was conducting a blasphemy trial on the King's Bench in the United Kingdom. Maybe that should be the Union Jack as the background image. In 1811 at the Supreme Court of New York in the case of "The People v. Ruggles", a man with the last name of Ruggles was convicted of blasphemy. On the attempt of an appeal, Justice James Kent used Raymond's opinion as part of his opinion as a reason why Ruggles' blasphemy conviction should stand.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14

This billboard may be misleading in content, but the verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 really does say that, so I have no comment.

[UPDATE, December 14, 2008]

"We recognize no Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus." -John Adams

Yep. No proof that this was ever said. No citation has ever been provided. I can't even find a plausible explanation for this quote. Maybe one of our readers can.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Does Obama Have a Chance in Mississippi?

City of JacksonImage via Wikipedia Mississippi is known to be incredibly conservative, but I had hoped that it might at least be worth Obama's effort to campaign here. I cannot be the only one tired of Republican corruption and hoping for reality-based government. Unfortunately, the latest poll numbers are discouraging and show McCain with a wide lead over Obama in our state. Among white voters, Obama is polling at only 14%. Talk about a racial disparity!

I do not subscribe to the local paper anymore because I never had time to read it and because I objected to the weekly "faith and values" section. That makes it a little harder to assess what my neighbors are thinking. I have seen a few more Obama bumper stickers around town and next to nothing in the way of pro-McCain stuff, but I realize that means little.

At first, I thought Obama might have a chance because the fundamentalist Christians did not seem overly thrilled with McCain. Still, I worry that Palin is going to help McCain boost voter turnout, at least among the Christian extremist contingent.

What do you think? Is it even worth Obama's time and money to campaign here?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stand Against AIDS, Mississippi

From the ACLU of Mississippi:
Join the ACLU of MS as We Partner in the Stand Against AIDS---A Walk from Jackson to Oxford AIDS Action in MS (a division of Housing Works) along with the ACLU of Mississippi, the NAACP, and other concerned organizations are taking a “stand against AIDS.” This historic walk will begin in Jackson on Saturday, September 13, at 10:00 a.m. on Freedom Corner (MLK Drive and Medgar Evers Blvd) and ends in Oxford on September 23, three days before the Presidential Debate at the University of Mississippi. After the walk and before the debate begins, Stand Against AIDS events will continue in Oxford.
HIV/AIDS is disproportionately affecting communities of color, the poor, and other disenfranchised groups, making these populations more likely to get infected with HIV and to die from complications relating to HIV/AIDS. Persons living with HIV face discrimination in finding and maintaining employment and housing, may have difficulty accessing health care or receiving adequate care due to discrimination, and often face privacy violations when their HIV status is illegally disclosed. All these reasons signify why the ACLU of MS sees HIV/AIDS as a pressing civil rights and civil liberties issue.

ACLU members and other interested people DO NOT need to walk the entire journey from Jackson to Oxford, but can join in for a day walk. Walkers will be housed and fed through donations from partnering organizations.

For more information please go to the website: or email Sarah Young, New Voices Fellow, at [email protected] or call 888.354.ACLU/ 601.354.3408.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Great Southern Humanist Society 2008 Clean Up Event

The Great Southern Humanist Society is planning their 2008 Clean Up Event for October 18, 2008 8:00 AM at Hiller Park in Biloxi. For details, visit their page.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Made It Though Gustav

Hurricane Gustav has now weakened to a tropical depression over Louisiana. No real difficulties with Gustav in my neck of the woods. The constant tornado warnings were scary, but I think the worst is now over. It sounds like coastal residents had 12+ hours without power and some experienced flooding. Those of us inland were largely spared even those inconveniences. It appears that only about 2,000 people in my area lost power.

Some area gas stations are out of gas, and I expect many local businesses to remain closed today. Probably worth a call to make sure where you want to go is open before heading out.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Latest Forecast as Gustav Prepares to Come Ashore

I am happy to still have power at this point, so I figure I should take advantage of it while I can. Gustav is expected to make landfall in Louisiana within the next 2 hours. This is what the anticipated path now looks like:

I am expecting lots of rain, sustained winds of around 40 mph with gusts around 60 mph, and likely power outages. Stay safe everyone!