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Posts in: September 2015

We Need the Eggs

A friend recently brought to my attention a conspiracy, a real conspiracy, to destroy a company producing egg-free mayonnaise. The article originally sent to me pitches this as an “anti-vegan” conspiracy, but the reality is much less exciting; at best, it’s a pro-egg conspiracy. The questions on my mind have little to do with the mayonnaise itself. I want to know why and how there would be, of all things, a pro-egg conspiracy.

The answer is deceptively simple. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) apportions $1.3 billion per year to a division called the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which among other duties currently administers 22 “Research & Promotion” programs, “requested, funded, and driven by industry.” The AMS states that it “provides oversight, ensuring fiscal responsibility, program efficiency, and fair treatment of participating stakeholders.” That sounds just lovely.

One of the 22 programs the AMS administers is called the American Egg Board. They came up with, among other things, the “Incredible Edible Egg” slogan and the annoyingly amusing Kevin Bacon & Eggs t-shirt. As you might guess, they put a lot of effort into the “promotion” half of “Research & Promotion.” The Board states that it is funded through roughly $20 million in annual assessments of egg sales (ten centers per 30-dozen case of eggs sold).

Appointees to the Board are selected by the Secretary of Agriculture, from a list of egg producer nominees. The Board itself sprung fully formed from Congress’s thigh in 1974, as part of the “Egg Research and Consumer Information Act.” Among other things, the law states that “[i]t has long been recognized that it is in the public interest to provide an adequate, steady supply of fresh eggs readily available to the consumers of the Nation… It is therefore declared to be the policy of the Congress and the purpose of this Act that it is essential and in the public interest, through the exercise of the powers provided herein, to authorize and enable the establishment of an orderly procedure from the development and the financing through an adequate assessment, an effective and continuous coordinated program of research, consumer and producer education, and promotion designed to strengthen the egg industry’s position in the marketplace.” Luckily, “[n]othing in this Act shall be construed to mean, or provide for, control of production or otherwise limit the right of individual egg producers.” What a relief!

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Sensitivity Straining

In the past, I’ve made light of a concept I find absurd: the notion of atheist discrimination and persecution. It’s absurd generally, but especially in a mostly free country like the United States. I’m aware that in less free, more religious countries, an individual’s atheism is a brave, dangerous choice. I’m also aware that in some cases, atheists publicly speaking out against religious atrocities has led to threats, violence, and murder, which is why a handful of atheist critics choose anonymity. I think, when I’ve mocked the idea of “atheist discrimination” in the past, I’ve made that distinction clear.

However, until recently I’ve never taken the time to properly think through the notion of atheist discrimination in the U.S. One reason it always strikes me as laughable is because it’s always couched in terms of government and employment. Although it obviously happens, it is neither appropriate nor legal for government officials to discriminate on the basis of their (or your) religious beliefs. The same goes for employers. So naturally, I think it’s silly when I read articles complaining that the U.S. military “discriminates” against atheists (they don’t). I think it’s equally silly when government discrimination is painted with the same brush as private discrimination, as when the Boy Scouts of America disallow atheists. That’s their choice and their right as a private, Christian organization. You want an atheist scouting organization? Start one.

What is both more concerning and upsetting to me than the vague notion of unprovable discrimination by unseen forces is the very real human cost of atheist discrimination.

A few weeks ago, I watched a video of a lecture given by an atheist activist, Katie Kruse. The video is 46 minutes long, but I’d recommend watching it if you feel the way I do. The lecturer, Katie Kruse, explains how her experiences as a missionary in China led to her loss of faith. In order to do justice to that, she explains her entire faith journey, from a childhood as an evangelical Christian to a young adulthood obsessed with learning the roots of the faith, to her missionary work and subsequent loss of faith, and finally, to the aftermath of “coming out” as an atheist.

I understood the journey. I know people like Kruse who haven’t lost their faith, so the early story was familiar. The atheists and agnostics I know are of a stock that never started out particularly religious; it was foisted on them by parents, but they never bought in. Some feared the consequences of their parents (or others) finding out; some tossed it back in their parents’ face as a form of rebellion. I’ve even read accounts of religious folks who faced dire consequences for abandoning their faith (even Scientologists), although I’ve never personally met any.

What resonated with Kruse’s story was the particular challenge of continuing to live in a world she had built around evangelical Christianity. In many of the accounts I’ve read, people are either excommunicated, or they’re forced to flee a brutal regime; in both cases, they mostly lose contact with the loved ones who wouldn’t necessarily understand what had changed or why. Kruse stayed where she was. She had to reckon with family and friends who would, at best, struggle to understand the shift in point of view. As someone whose biggest frustration is being misunderstood, this hit me hard.

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The 150 Films Project

I’ve decided this blog needs to lighten the fuck up…sometimes. Over the past year, this place has gone from somewhat satirical mockery of the media to cranky, somewhat smartassy critiques of what I perceive as dumb people. I can’t say that’s what I want it to be, because I’m not nearly as cranky in real life as I come across on the blog. This place has always been a repository for rants and randomness, and my interest in religious issues, politics, and economic affairs has become the source of many of these rants.

As a result, I’ve made a few pledges to myself. First, no more Twitter. I’ve followed a number of atheist activists, who post articles or retweet commentators with horrible opinions. These atheists make me laugh, the articles sober me, the idiocy enrages me… And I can’t take it. I have enough anxiety about aspects of my life I can control; I don’t need to shoulder the things I can’t. That doesn’t mean I’ll make like an ostrich; I’m just not going to subject myself to this angrifying stuff constantly.

Second pledge: no more Sunday morning news shows. Holy shit. I don’t even think I need to explain this one.

Third pledge: no election coverage. It’s September of the year before the fucking election. First of all, stop it, media. More importantly, I don’t need it. On one side, I don’t need to waste time caring about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz; on the other, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. They’re fucking idiots, and at least half of them (probably all) will be out of the race by the end of the year. So why waste the emotional energy on the stupid, terrible things they say? I’ll still be aware of the stupid, terrible things Republicans say without actually seeing/hearing/reading daily examples of it.

The happiest I’ve ever been was in 2012, when I was so mired in finishing Overzealous that I managed to ignore the entire 2012 election. I can’t overstate how great it was to completely not give a shit about election year. (I caught up earlier this year by reading the book Double Down, which took several hundred pages to tell me, “You didn’t miss anything.”) Given my stance on voting, which isn’t likely to change based on the current candidate pool, what the hell is the point of frustrating myself every time these assholes come out to stump? The only person I even marginally care about is Hillary Clinton, who will be the Democrats’ nominee and whose questionable behavior (I’m not just talking about her e-mail issues) may be disastrous. And at this point, I can’t honestly say which is worse: her winning, or her losing. But frankly, this is something that might be worth worrying about a year from now, not today.

See? I can’t stop myself.

Too bad. I’m going to force it. And I’m not going to Sorkin this shit, where a conversation about “Who’s on First” spins out into a middle-aged man blustering about MY SON STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIELD IN AFGHANISTAN. I’ll still have my rants from time to time, but for the foreseeable future, I will devote the majority of my effort to a single project.

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