January 20th, 2009

Thomas Paine

Inauguration Day

This is nothing you ever need to worry about, but if my dirty atheist ass is ever elected to the United States Presidency, here's what I'd tweak about the inauguration proceedings:

1) Replace the invocation with a nice thank-you speech to the People for their participation in this peaceful transition of power. They are the ones who make it possible. Follow that with a moment of respectful silence. Those in attendance may encode and transmit thought waves* to The Noodly One (or other deity of choice) during that moment, or not, as preferred.
2) Swear in with one hand on a copy of the US Constitution, since that's the document I'm swearing to defend and uphold.
3) Say "This I vow" or something similar at the end of the swear-in.
4) Yo-Yo Ma? Sweet! Let's hear more John Williams arrangements! (We'd all rather hear that than my speech, wouldn't we?)

* Thought waves, by definition, must be analog. Right? When's the transition to digital scheduled to occur?

Letter to the President (I)

Dear Mr. President,

If all goes well, you'll probably be hearing a lot from me. I'm really excited about the change you plan to enact with your administration, and one thing I'm excited about in particular is your emphasis on transparency and accessibility. As part of my duty as a US citizen- one of your employers- I hope to keep tabs on governmental actions in coming years, and let you and my Congressional representatives know what I think.

Right off the bat, I want to thank you for two things you mentioned in your inaugural address. First is your commitment to returning science to its rightful place. Science isn't perfect, but it's the best tool we have for understanding the world around us and for improving our interaction with it. So often in the past few years, we've seen solid scientific findings and years worth of research shunned in favor of fear and superstition: attitudes that once led to a dark age that lasted for centuries. In recent times, we've seen anti-intellectualism take root among politicians and, even worse, among the administrators of our schools. I know your grandmother died this past year- so did mine, of complications related to Parkinson's Disease. I can't help but wonder, had the Bush administration thrown its support behind stem-cell research, whether things might have played out differently in her final days. Even if the research was too new to benefit my grandmother, surely it could benefit thousands of others in the future. This is just one example of trends in policy and thinking that I hope you, like I, are committed to help reversing.

Second, I wish to thank you for including non-believers when speaking of America's diverse religious makeup. I'm an atheist myself, and it was wonderful to be publicly recognized and acknowledged with respect. Several members of my own immediate family, unfortunately, refuse to do that, and I know their attitudes are, unfortunately, not rare. Some atheists liken themselves to homosexuals in that we have to remain "closeted" with certain people. It ends up being a very large group of people. I saw a poll once, for instance, in which 90% of respondents said that they wouldn't vote someone into public office if that person admitted to being an atheist. The first step to overcoming intolerance and stigma is reinforcing in the public eye that a nonreligious viewpoint exists, and that the people who hold that viewpoint aren't necessarily bad or amoral because of it. So again, thank you for acknowledging me and thousands of others whose world-views don't happen to include a deity.

Best of luck in all the challenges that lie ahead! I'll do my best to offer my time and my thoughts when and where I can.

[Contact info omitted- y'all know who I am. Or, in Pittsburghese: yinz know who I am, n'at.]