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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Atheist Magazine Publishes a Third Comic Article of Mine

The leading atheist magazine in this country is Free Inquiry, put out by the Center for Inquiry in association with the Council for Secular Humanism.  I have been a subscriber for many years and when I published my atheist thriller “Imaginary Friend” I became friends with the editor, Thomas W. Flynn (a great character, fun to know).  When I first sent him the column below he asked that I expand it and when I sent him the newer version he liked it a lot.  He told me one of my changes made him laugh so hard a coworker stuck his head in Tom's office to ask if he was all right.  What author wouldn't want to hear that?

Tom Flynn

I have written three short comic pieces (all of which had their first appearance in this blog and then were rewritten for the magazine), and the most recent of these just hit the stands.  Here is what “What Did the Lions Eat on Noah’s Ark?” looks like in the February/March 2019 issue of Free Inquiry, Vol. 39 #2 (click to enlarge):

Related Posts:

“What Did the Lions Eat on Noah’s Ark?” October 20, 2017;  

“I've Published Another Article: "An Atheist Interviews God," November 17, 2017;

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Why There Can’t Be an Impeachment of Trump in His First Administration

Actually most people don’t understand the meaning of the word “impeachment” as used in the United States Constitution.  They think it means throwing the president out of office.  It doesn’t.
An impeachment is the same thing as an indictment in normal criminal proceedings.  Under the Constitution a majority of the House of Representatives can impeach the president for “high crimes or misdemeanors” (an ambiguous phrase), but the process can include any civil officer of the United States, including the president, vice president, judges, etc.  There have been two successful impeachments of our presidents: Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor) in 1867 and Bill Clinton in 1999.  Both were acquitted in their subsequent trials.  Thus, technically, the title of this post is wrong: there might be an “impeachment” of Trump, but I was using the word there the way most people use it: removal from office.  It was too awkward to phrase it accurately in a title of a blog post.  Back to the matter at hand:

Following impeachment the trial of the person impeached is held in the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice.  The House of Representatives presents the case against the person who has been impeached and that person is then removed from office only if two-thirds of the Senators vote for removal.  Johnson survived this trial by one vote and then served the rest of his term as president.  It would have taken 67 votes to convict Clinton, and the most the Republicans could garner were 50 (no Democratic senators voted against him).  History records that both impeached presidents were acquitted.  (Richard Nixon resigned immediately before the House of Representatives would have voted to impeach him.)  It’s a strange system that has members of the house as prosecutors, senators as a jury, and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court as a trial court judge.  Few of these august people typically have any experience in these roles.

I’ve written once before about impeaching our current president, and in that post I elaborated about both prior impeachments in some detail [see “Related Posts” below].  This time around I want to explore the current climate for the reality of a possible conviction of Donald Trump in any impeachment brought against him by the 2019 or 2020 House of Representatives.

Yes, with a Democratic House it’s possible (in spite of the title of this post) for a majority of the members to vote to impeach Trump for some crime or another (pick your favorite Trump “high crime or misdemeanor”—alas, there are a large number of choices).  But using “impeachment” to throw Trump out of office by a vote by two-thirds of the Senators, well . . . it’s impossible.  You can surely see why.  The 116th Congress, convening in 2019, will bring some good news for the Democrats since they have gained a majority in the House of Representatives after November 2018 election. If they act quickly and have sufficient evidence of Trump’s ghastly misdeeds they might vote to impeach him and send the case to the Senate for trial.  Robert Mueller could help mightily here should his investigation accuse Trump of indictable offenses.

The Senate, however, is where this would all collapse.  In 2019 it is composed of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents (who vote with the Democrats on most issues). Even if all the Democrats (and those two independents) vote to convict Trump that adds up to only 47 of the needed 67 votes to back a moving van up to the White House's rear door.  It’s nonsense to think 20 of the current Republican Senators (TWENTY!) will turn against Trump and vote to convict him.  You only have to look at the Kavanaugh mess to see how much solidarity the Republicans have in the Senate.  One or two (hell, on a fair day even three) might vote to convict.  Then Trump would laugh, engage in a twitter fit of self-congratulation, and things would go back to the usual chaos of his administration.

Since this is obviously the result it would be a waste of everyone’s time to impeach Trump in the House and face the futility of an acquittal in the Senate.  [Of course that was also true of the Clinton impeachment so Democrats might do something futile just to embarrass Trump, which, admittedly, might be tempting.]

“Wait!” you might say.  “What if the Democrats elect a huge number of new Senators in the 2020 election—wouldn’t that change things?”  Yes it would, but that new Senate wouldn’t convene until January of 2021 and by that time a trial in the Senate it would be relevant only if Trump had just won reelection to a new four year term. 

And surely that won’t happen.

And surely that won’t happen.

And surely that won’t happen.

Related Posts:

“Impeaching Donald Trump:  A Lawyer Looks at the Legal Issues,” August 16, 2017;

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I’m Not Kidding: What You Need Is a Placebo

In the late spring of this year  I was directing a play called “Bad Seed” and my leading actress was having major private problems, among them was that her middle-aged father had had a major heart attach and she was the primary member of her family having to cope with this shocking event while at the same time holding a fulltime job as an administrator at a law firm and, of course, starring in my play.  She is a terrific actor, one who memorized her huge part almost immediately and performed it well, but she told me she wasn’t sleeping at night.  “One or two hours at most,” was her sheepish confession.  I was very worried and I quizzed her about various possibilities: warm milk, over the counter sleep aids, doctor prescriptions.  “Tried them all; didn’t work.”  This went on for over a week and my concern deepened.  I sat down and told her all about my own reactions to my father’s sudden death (see Related Posts below), so she understood I’d been through something similar to her current nightmare.  However all I could come up with was sympathy and empathy. 

Then a seasoned veteran actor in our cast, named Rosemary, took our leading lady aside and told her, “I’ve got just what you need: my magic blanket.”  What?  Yes, a “magic blanket” and Rosemary assured our actress lead it would envelope her in sleep as soon as she wrapped it around herself and settled down.  Smiling, our grateful actress took the blanket, somehow knowing it was just what she needed.

And here’s what will amaze no one reading this: it worked!  Sleep came and things got much better physically for the sleeper.  A week later I asked her if she still was using it and she smiled and confessed that if she didn’t wrap up in it she still couldn’t nod off, but if she embraced herself in Rosemary’s magic blanket she conked right out. 

What was going on here?  The answer is that this blanket, a placebo, was exactly what was called for.  My actress didn’t believe in magic, knew it shouldn’t work, but also knew it would.  How could that be?

Readers of this blog will know that I don’t believe in magic either, nor cult phenomena, or anything other than what we know scientifically or can guess from established facts.  But science knows that placebos have always been powerful medicine.  Recent studies have proven this, and that’s what this post is about.  By coincidence I’ve just read two articles within weeks of each other, one in The New Yorker [see] and the other in Reader’s Digest [see], reporting on the amazing results that testers are having with trials involving the announced administration of placebos.  By “announced” I mean that the patients were told they were being given placebos, but even so had major success from taking them, just as my actress did with her “magic” blanket.

What they are proving is the power of the human brain to work wonders in self-healing.  From our earliest cave days remedies were urged on sufferers by wise old women or men or self-proclaimed experts of all kinds, and some of these remedies (many of them) worked even if these “experts” were deficient in expertise. And (we all know this) some things today’s doctors prescribe are almost identical to cave healers’ remedies. Doctors, sometimes after a drink or two, will tell you that more than once they’ve written prescriptions for vaguely disguised sugar pills.  Even more important, placebos can help with depression, chronic pain, and many other maladies.  Much of the relief people feel from acupuncture is thought to come from the placebo effect (patients, blindfolded and treated with toothpicks but thinking they were feeling traditional acupuncture, had the same success).

That said, a placebo can’t mend a broken leg of course, nor other truly physical injuries, but it can (in the case of the Reader’s Digest post) help with writer’s block, or with calming yourself down enough to make crucial free throws in a basketball game, or, as with my lead actress, going to sleep in difficult times.

Even if you really know it’s a placebo?  Yes.  As the articles cited above attest that turns out to be unimportant.  What is important is that you feel the need for a talisman, something to help push you over the top of your problem—even if it’s improbable—so that you have done something to clear this stumbling block and now can resume normal life. 

There is even a movement to sell placebos in drug stores labelled frankly as such: “Placebo.”

So, my readers, if you get into one of those strange situations where you feel you need something quirky to get you back to normal, what the hell?  Take a placebo.  Or create your own out of your grandmother’s favorite remedy for the blahs (chicken soup can work wonders).  These things are all cheaper than paying a doctor to give you a sugar pill and direct you to take it once a day.  A warm blanket can help with many problems.

Good health to you all!

Related Posts:

“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010;

“Rape, Biology, and Tricks of the Mind,” January 8, 2015,

“How to Take a (or Many) Pills Easily,” May 26, 2010;

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Why Everyone Should Care About Transgender Rights

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance, reflecting on discrimination, including death, of trans individuals.

Federal law has long banned discrimination on sex and gender, a move originally made to protect the civil rights of African Americans with (a quirk of political history) women thrown in as an afterthought.  When the question about the scope of the Civil Rights Act was addressed the courts originally ruled that “sex” did not include “sexual orientation.”  But in the last few years a number of federal courts changed their minds about this and held that “sex” does extend protection to gays.  Other federal courts disagreed and the matter is likely headed to the Supreme Court.  The Obama administration sided with a broad reading, protecting sexual orientation, and also issued regulations that “gender” should be interpreted to protect transgender individuals who believe they were born as the wrong gender and work to change that as they get older.

But Barack Obama is no longer our president and the Trump administration, having already decided that trans soldiers should be tossed out of the military, has recently circulated a proposed change in federal regulations that would state “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” adding that “the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”  For the New York Times article on all this see

If adopted this change would encourage the states to enact so-called “bathroom” bills that would require transgendered folks to use restrooms of the gender they were born with, even if they have so dramatically changed themselves that they no longer conform in any way to that gender. 

Upset at this, George Godwyn, who is not himself transgendered, went on Facebook with this entry:

I posted a picture of Buck Angel, a transgender adult film actor, in a few of large, sometimes huge, Trump groups. The picture showed a very buff, ripped Mr. Angel from the waist up, shirtless, with a shaved head and sporting a Fu Manchu mustache. He is an extremely masculine looking guy. With the picture I included the question “This person has a vagina. Which bathroom should they use?”

Here is a picture of Buck Angel:

Mr. Godwyn continued:

I thought at least some of these people will realize how silly it would be to want this man to use the ladies room. How socially awkward and alarming that would be, in so many situations. Putting aside how dangerous it would be for the man, simply on the basis of the immediate, practical effect on the other diners in the given Applebee’s or wherever it was happening.

The post got hundreds of comments, finally thousands. Immediately. The Trump supporters had a very clear answer and they were adamant about it. Almost no one answered with “the men’s room”. A few said things like “if they’ve got a vagina, they use a woman’s room, if they have a penis, they use the men’s room.” But the majority of the of the commenters had an answer I hadn’t considered at all. These people had worked out a very simple solution to the problem of transgender people and the norms revolving public restrooms.

They wanted transgender people to die.

They were quite explicit about it, very blunt. “They should die.” That simple. That concise. “They should die.”

Let me be entirely clear about this – they knew what they were saying, they knew exactly what they wanted. They didn't want a trans man in the men's room and they didn't want a trans man in the woman's room. They wanted the trans man to be dead.

Mr. Godwyn himself received death threats.  A full account of what happened can be found in his subsequent Reddit post from which I took these quotes:

Transpeople are in fact murdered with horrifying frequency, particularly male to females, and these crimes often go unsolved or result in ridiculously small punishments meted out by judges or juries who have little regard for the deceased victims.  Consider that current statistics indicate that 1.4 million people in the United States are transgender.  Should their lives be lesser?

I have quite a history with the gay rights movement in Ohio, being one of the founders of Stonewall Columbus, the leading gay group in Columbus (established in 1981).  See the Related Posts below for many of my discussions about the battles to allow to have gays have the same rights as everyone else—no more, no less.

When the gay rights movement was finally getting major traction in the 1970s and 80s one of the first questions was whether to include bisexuals in the categories of people to be protected.  Believe it or not, some controversy existed as to this.  Many studies showed that there were actually very few true gay male bisexuals.  Most men claiming that title ultimately turned out to be on a path to coming out as a gay man.  But the evidence was strong that a goodly number of women really were bisexual in orientation.  And, as someone pointed out to me at the time, if these folks will join our cause if we let them , why not swell the gathering chorus demanding fair treatment for sexual minorities?

Next came the demand that a “T” be placed at the end of LGB to represent the transgender/transsexual people who are clearly discriminated in truly ugly ways.  At a time when the homosexual community was struggling to accomplish anything at all it was hard to add this new sexual minority to the battle, and the LGB community has a shameful history of resistance to doing so;  see  But in this new century at least the issue is settled: trans people are certainly entitled to the same protection that all LGB people have been seeking.  This is a no-brainer.

And it makes sense to say that straight people’s misunderstanding of what is going on is not grounds for treating sexual minorities—all of them—as subject to different rules in a civilized world.  Sexual minorities are discriminated against because of an inborn characteristic having to do with sex that is different than problems encountered by the large majority of people.  Plus transexuals have the same acceptance problem as homosexuals.  All the LGBT lettered babies are born into a straight-dominated world that doesn’t understand them, a world that thinks what they want to do sexually is a choice (and a bad, even evil one at that), and condemns them for making that choice.  The answer to this mess is the same too:  educate the populace to understand that LGBT individuals should be judged on merits having to do with matters other than sexual orientation or gender identification.  Let's use Martin Luther King Jr.'s standard: the content of their character.

All the scientific and sociological evidence supports the biological assertions in the above paragraph.  Gays can’t choose who to be sexually attracted to; trans people are born knowing what sex they are even when it does not match the body they inhabit.  No one is making this up, and the social problems caused by misunderstanding these issues must be solved in favor of treating all people equally.  Give everybody a chance to make the most out of the life they have been handed.
If you doubt homosexuality is a natural biological phenomenon, look at the scientific evidence.  Even in the animal kingdom it’s routine.  In the 1999 book “”Biological Exuberance” Dr. Bruce Bademihl, in incredible detail, explores the more than 450 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects worldwide who engage in homosexual activity.

Gays are largely winning the public acceptance battle, but---damn it---the trans community is in trouble.  The chief reason is that the nature of transgender problems sounds too bizarre and foreign for most people.  But if you are a mother whose three year old son tells you that “I’m really a girl, Mama,” you’ll have to confront a very different future than you had planned.  How parents (and society) react to this statement makes all the difference.  Forcing the child to behave and adopt the trappings of the birth sex—the usual choice—does not work, any more than forcing gay people to marry the opposite sex does.  As soon as the trans child figures out what is really going on and how to escape, he or she sets out to do what can be done to become the person he or she knows is the true center of their universe.

These struggles are huge, scary, and very hard for people who are born into the “right” sex (“cisgender” people: those happy with the sex assigned at birth, i.e., most of us) to understand.  Or, even understanding, then empathizing with.  Want to see what it would be like?  Test your empathy for the dilemma?  Hmm.  Try this: Watch at least one episode of the FX show entitled “Pose,” which tells the incredible story of the trans community in 1980s NYC  (eight terrific episodes so far), acted mostly by trans actors themselves.  Season One is available on cable’s FX channel:; or on Amazon Prime.  If you watch the first episode you will watch them all.

Mr Godwyn’s Reddit post on how astounded he was at the hatred he encountered by supporting transgendered people only emboldened him further.  Here is his conclusion:

I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you are in the political spectrum, I don’t care how fucking liberal or leftist you are, I don’t care how feminist you are, if you don’t support trans-rights, you are not on my fucking side. I don’t give a fuck about your bio–essentialist arguments, I don’t give a fuck about your history with men, I don't care about your pissing eight year old or your bigot grandmother. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck about your traumatic sexual assault if it means you’re going to take it out on some fucking teenage girl who doesn’t want to have to use a bathroom with a bunch of frat boys and have the same fucking thing happen to her.

Here's my own final thought.  We are in a world in which decisions are being made about who is worth protecting.  Me?  I choose everyone. 

Now make your choice.

The Trans Memorial Flag

Related Posts:

“The Aging Gay Rights Activist,” March 24, 2010;

“The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio,” June 4, 2012; 

“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010; 

“Must a Baker Create a Cake for a Gay Wedding?  What Will the Supreme Court Likely Say?” September 28, 2017;

“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014;