The Men Who Stare At Goats

As a skeptic this movie had me practically rolling on the floor. When Clooney’s character talks about stabbing an enemy in the neck with a pen to create “Psychic disincentive”, I practically fell out of my chair. Of COURSE if you cause someone severe pain they will be less lakely to attack you. They will, instead, be grabbing the pen in their neck and screaming.

The movie “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is based on the book, The Crazy Rulers of the World” by Jon Ronson. The main character, Lyn Cassady, (whose real name is Glenn Wheaton) played by George Clooney, claims to have witnessed a Green Beret kill a goat simply by staring at it.

From the perspective of a skeptic, I have to wonder what else was going on in the room at the time. I have seen news stories about a breed of goat that suffers from a condition mytonia congenita. When startled these goats faint. They become rigid and drop over for a period of 10 seconds or more. ( While it is not an actual ‘faint’, it could be interpreted as the goat having died. So if someone startled the goat while the Green Beret was trying to kill it with his mind, the sudden tipping over of the goat could have been interpreted as success.

If anyone else has more information on the book, the movie or the people involved, I would love to hear it.


Witch Hunts In Africa

Two days back I posted about a video I watched. The video showed five elderly people being beaten and burned alive in the western district of Kisii in Kenya. Why? They had been accused of witchcraft and/or sorcery and they were being punished for their crimes by being burnt.

After further research I found that I came a bit late to this particular party. The original video I posted appears to have first surfaced in April of this year. This is also not the only incident of people being burnt, beaten, ostracised or otherwise tortured for supposedly practicing witchcraft or sorcery. This is, according to this article by the BBC ( is so common a practice that there are no longer any elders to consult.

In my previous article I spoke at length about how stunned I was that such a thing could happen in the 21st century. My husband reminded me that it isn’t really the 21st century there. In remote villages in Africa, it IS 200 years ago. Perhaps some of modern civilization touches these areas but not enough science and logical thought are being introduced to these cultures.

This article from the New York Times (  blames apartheid for the burnings. The article further claims that these burnings have been growing steadily since the 1980’s. The Chief talks about the “ungovernability of the young” and talks about how the old ways are being lost. There was once a less violent way to handle “bewitchings”. Now the youth are taking things into their own hands and the police do nothing.

Another opinion posed by this article ( by the Associated Press blames the increase of Pentecostal churches. According to the reporter, the number of burnings have increased in proportion with the number of churches. “Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.””. Some parishioners who attend churches have taken the teachings back to their village where it gets mixed with African traditions. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Then there are those who let the power go to their heads. There are pastors who perform exorcisms and extort exorbitant fees from the parents for this “service”. Children have been hurt and maimed during these supposed exorcisms. The mere mention of certain church names is enough to cause a group of happily playing children mentioned in this article to become frightened.

Unfortunately this is a complicated issue and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. If you remove the churches, then you remove food and medicine that secular organizations simply can’t cover. I would be interested to know what, if anything, the UN is doing about this. Are there any human rights organizations addressing this problem? There is still research to be done on this and I will be talking about it further in the future.

The Funeral of a Friend

Michelle would have hated that I called it a funeral. She wanted this to be a celebration of her life. So that’s where we’ll be Sunday night. At her celebration.

It’s not like this was unexpected. Michelle fought back stage 4 cancer once. The second time the disease won. If you’re one for one and you still die, does that mean you’re tied? It reminds me of when I was a teenager in the 80’s. We had MAD back then. Mutually Assured Destruction. Yep. Cold War Era.

How do people like Hitchins, Dawkins and Meyers handle death when it hits close to home like this? This is my first death as an atheist. It doesn’t make me long for an afterlife. I’m not seeking shelter in dogma. If anything I am grieving for a young woman who won’t get to have her mother at her wedding or ask about what to do with a colicky baby or let her mother bounce her grandchild on her knee. Her youngest daughter is only 18. What do you do with something like that?

I’ve told her repeatedly that if she needs anything at all, I’m here for her. I guess that’s all I can do.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on coping with the death of a loved one was from, of all places, a web comic called Venus Envy by Erin Lindsey ( Zoe just had her first experience with death when her dog Bergamot (Bergie to his friends) was hit by a car. It devastated her.

As he walked her home, her friend Larsen told her “It’s okay to be sad. But they’re not really gone. The most important parts of them stay with you. The best of what they were will stay with you if you care enough. Just think about them a little each day. What they did for you. What you did for them. One day you’ll realize you’re not deliberately taking that time to think about them. That’s when they’re a part of you forever.”

I love that advice because it doesn’t rely on something mystical. Simply take time to remember them. That’s how people truly live on after death. In our memories and with our love and stories.


I went back and read over this before publishing and realized it is a bit of a rant. I’ll ask your indulgence in that regard. Please bear with me while I make my point though.

This is something I have been pondering for a very long time. Being the analytical person I am, I’ve noticed that since around the age of 39, I have less and less tolerance for what I see as idiocy. There are times when I tend to be much quicker to be dismissive of something.

For instance, last night there was a candle light vigil for a local man who was beaten into a coma. He never woke up from that and died last week. It’s great that so many people came to the vigil. I understand the desire for the prayers and the singing and support for the loved ones left behind. Personally, *I* want to rip off the genitals of the people who did the beating and then take a baseball bat to them until they stop moving. Or, to quote Richard form my favorite web comic, “Looking For Group”….Shoot them in the face until it stops being funny.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for people who commit violence against others because of their sexuality, ethnicity, gender or even appearance. Some days I feel that they should be treated in the exact same way that they treated their victim.

Several years back there was an instance where a few guys chained another man to the back of a pick up truck and drug him to death. I can’t imagine a more inhuman way to treat someone. And yet the perpetrators sit in a cozy jail cell, get fed three means a day, watch TV, read and continue to waste perfectly good oxygen.

Why don’t we chain these bastards up to a truck and drag THEM to death? Because it’s inhuman. We’re “better” than that.

I have to ask myself…are we REALLY? Lethal injection is cruel because most of the time the first injection, the anesthetic, isn’t properly monitored. So the criminal to be executed is not anesthetized when the second injection, the Pancuronium bromide to induce paralysis, is administered.

Our humane lethal injection is then administered to someone who is awake and paralyzed when the potassium chloride is injected to stop his or her heart. This person who was supposed to be executed humanely is actually awake and in excruciating pain according to research done back in 2005. You can read the article here:

So are we REALLY more humane here in the West?

As many things as I disagree with in Sharia law, there IS one thing that I think they have right. Beheading, when done properly, is more humane. It is quick. It is painless since the spinal cord is severed. Yes, I know it sounds barbaric. Consider the options. Think about it. Do some research.

What do YOU think?

Death Of An Atheist

Here’s a little bonus entry for you. I was driving home this morning after a lovely bit of *facepalm* brought to you by hubby Ken. He left this morning for his new job in Atlanta and he left his backpack with his laptop sitting in the living room. So I drove part way to meet him.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t drive with the radio on. It’s too distracting. Driving is the time that I get to myself to ponder the things that randomly pop into my head.

This morning, for instance, I was pondering the proper protocol for an atheist’s funeral.

No, no one close to me has died. I just think on the odd topic now and again.

It occurred to me that you can’t simply give the grieving family the usual “s/he’s in a better place” platitudes. Atheists don’t believe in any divine being nor an afterlife. It’s literally One Life To Live: The Home Game.

That leaves the awkward (as if funerals weren’t awkward enough) comments like “S/he had a helluva run, eh?” or the overdone, oft used “I’m sorry for your loss”. How many times can the family hear that second one without getting sick of it?

I’m a rather odd bird. When things like this come up I am reminded of John Cleese giving the eulogy of Graham Chapman. John walked out, sat on the coffin and proceeded to deliver this speech: ( “He is an ex-Chapman.”, he concludes.

James “The Amazing” Randi, said in an interview in SF Magazine recently that he doesn’t want a big memorial. He just wants to be cremated and his ashes blown in Uri Gellar’s eyes.

My hero.

Even when I was a True Believer I felt that we don’t mourn for the person who is gone. We mourn for ourselves because we will miss the one who died. Mourning is an act of self-indulgence. We cry and our heart breaks because we know that we will never see that person again and our life is  a little more diminished for not having that person in it.

So I ponder how to deal with the death of an atheist. What are the right things to say? Seriously, the whole ‘dirt nap’ saying doesn’t play well with others at a funeral. Neither does the Kevorkian plug-n-play euphemism.

I would love to be able to say something comforting that doesn’t sound like a platitude that might make the griever smile even just a little bit. And “I’m sorry to hear about his/her demotion to plant fertilizer” is just NOT gonna cut it.

Okay, okay, I know this post has degraded into really dark humor. All kidding aside, I wonder, is it appropriate to bring up fond memories you have of the deceased? Does that help or hurt? One would think it would help, but I really don’t know.  It’s obvious that even at my age my experiences with death are pretty theoretical.