Humanist Freethinker: Ani DiFranco




On this date in 1970, punk folksinger Ani DiFranco was born in Buffalo, N.Y. Ani (pronounced AHH-nee) started singing Beatles’ songs in local bars as a youngster. By 15, she had begun writing her own material, and was living on her own. She graduated at age 16 from the Visual and Performing Arts High School in Buffalo and moved to New York City at 18.

She has produced 13 albums. Sing Out calls her lyrics “jaw-dropping.” Spurning offers from indie and major labels alike, Ani started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records. Ani not only writes and publishes her own songs and produces her own recordings, but even creates the artwork.

An in-demand artist, she tours acoustic, college and rock club circuits, winning over a diverse audience. Her freethought views are revealed in such songs as “Animal” (from Educated Guess), in which she sings about growing up “surrounded by willful ignorance” and “the religions of men.”

She said in an interview with the Progressive:

“I’m not a religious person myself. I’m an atheist. I think religion serves a lot of different purposes in people’s lives . . . but then, of course, institutional religions are so problematic” (May 2000).

“I’m an atheist… how unfortunate it is to assign responsibility to the higher up for justice amongst people.”

—Ani DiFranco, interview by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, May 2000

Rational Suicide: Philip Nitschke condemns our ‘prehistoric’ euthanasia laws…



From Australia

With the topic of legalising euthanasia up for debate in parliament this week, I travelled to Holland to speak to the man who started the conversation.

You have been putting up with portraits of often long-dead Australian mavericks from me for weeks now, as part of my attempt to entertain and inspire. This time, though, our maverick is alive and well and willing to talk. And there is plenty of reason for a conversation, because the cause he spent most of his life advocating, euthanasia, will be debated in both the NSW and Victorian parliaments this week. In fact, it is on the agenda in Sydney today. But Philip Nitschke won’t be there. Two years ago he migrated to the more liberal climes of the Netherlands and that is where we are talking now, in a high-ceilinged restaurant dating back to the 18th century, with heavy wood paneling, landscapes painted on walls and waiters in long white aprons. But there are reminders of home too, like the cockatoo on the bar, a gift from an Australian sailor 22 years ago and still on his perch overlooking the customers, screeching his comments. Nitschke turned 70 this year and although he takes his cause very seriously, he knows how to have a good laugh at his own expense. “When I helped my first patient kill himself, Wikipedia started referring to me as ‘doctor death’. There are only nine of us. Six are dead. People like Mengele, the Nazi doctor in Auschwitz, and Jack Kevorkian. Then there is a chap in Siberia who is serving a life sentence, somebody in South Africa awaiting trial for murder, and me. Last man standing.”

Nitschke seems at home in Holland. A few days ago he was on the front page of one of the leading Dutch papers, talking about a new euthanasia drug. But he is not a controversial, polarising figure here; just another expert giving his measured opinion about the way forward in the debate. The euthanasia debate in the Netherlands has been raging since the early 1970s and resulted in a law in 2002 that allows for close to what the Australian states are discussing now. The discussion in Holland at the moment is about giving people the right to decide for themselves whether they want to die or not, without the interference of a doctor, and even without the necessity of a terminal illness. The majority of the country, 74%, is in favour of supplying people who feel their life is “completed” with a pill that they can use if and when they decide it is time to end it. It is a conversation that is a long way from the one in front of the Australian politicians this week, and Nitschke deplores the fact that the country is so far behind most of the rest of the Western world. Especially because Australia was the first to have a euthanasia law in the world, in the Northern Territory in 1996. Nitschke himself was instrumental in getting it passed and making it work until the Federal government shut it down.

Ship Hit by Huge Wave in North Sea…



TODD WALTON: Know Your Audience


Of Water and Melons

Chapbook Of Water and Melons

Under The Table Books

“Truth is a great flirt.” Franz Liszt

A few decades ago a short novel came out in America that became a huge bestseller. I won’t name the novel because I think it is a bad book, poorly written, and with a terrible message; but because tens of millions of people loved the book, I don’t want to sully anybody’s happy memories of that novel. Because I am a fiction writer, several people urged me to read this novel, and three people gave me copies. I soldiered through the first few pages, skimmed the rest, and despaired for humanity.

A year after that very popular novel came out I read an article summarizing a study about that novel conducted by scholars at a well-known university. The study documented that the vast majority of people who bought and read this popular book believed it was not a novel, but an absolutely true story, though the book was marketed as a work of fiction, and nowhere on or in the book did the publisher or author claim the story was true. The study further reported that when people who loved this book were informed that the story was not true, they reacted with either tremendous anger or enormous disappointment, or both.

“The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

I became aware of this phenomenon—people believing fiction is true—some years before this mass delusion about a popular novel swept the nation. In those long ago days, I frequently gave public readings of my fiction; and it was during the mid-1980s that more and more people began to experience my stories as true rather than as fiction. In response to this phenomenon, I would preface my reading of each story by declaring that the tale was not autobiographical, not inspired by supposedly true events, and was most definitely a work of fiction.

Even with this disclaimer, many people in my audiences continued to assume my stories were recollections of things that had really happened to me, regardless of how preposterous that possibility.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Irma, Harvey, and the impact of climate change…



Rob Reiner Helps Launch Committee to Investigate Russia…



Director Rob Reiner has joined a new group called the Committee to Investigate Russia, to highlight what is known about the Russian threat to interfere with American elections and other institutions.

The committee went live today with a website at, as well as a video featuring Morgan Freeman. Reiner and David Frum of The Atlantic announced the launch of the group.

The committee’s advisory board members include Reiner; James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence; Charlie Sykes, the conservative political commentator; Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The non-partisan committee features explanatory material on its website, as well as a social media campaign, daily newsletter, and breaking news updates. The announcement did not mention Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference and whether there were any connections to the campaign of Donald Trump.

According to an announcement, one of the reasons for forming the group is that, in contrast to the days of the Cold War, “it’s a lot harder to recognize today’s cyber attacks and espionage from Russia, but the goal is the same — to undermine our country. This isn’t about politics. This is about ensuring the Russians cannot wage war on us without Americans knowing it and making sure our elected leaders do something about it.”

Frum was special assistant to President George W. Bush. He is not an advisory board member, but has written extensively on Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign.

Reiner and his wife Michele were founding members of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which challenged California’s Proposition 8 in federal court. The state initiative was overturned, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in California and a prelude to marriage equality nationwide.


The Case for Psychedelics…


Disclaimer: In this piece we are offering a broad-brush advocacy for therapeutic psychedelic use coupled with rigorous scientific research. However we are research psychologists, not medical practitioners and we are not offering tailored medical or mental health advice. Furthermore, outside of narrow religious and research use, any psychedelic use is illegal in the U.S., and we do not recommend breaking the law.

From Quilette

Imagine a substance so powerful that, when used in the correct context, it could permanently change your personality in the direction of greater openness and inspire flow states of heightened creativity. It could help treat the depression or mood disorder that you’ve had to endure despite countless ineffective therapies. Indeed, although the substance is technically a drug, it could help you break addictions to other drugs. Finally, this substance could give you some of the most meaningful experiences of your life, including mystical ones imbued with an unrivaled sense of clarity, unity with your surroundings, and profound knowledge experienced at an intuitive level. If you were a religious sort, it could deeply strengthen your religious beliefs and spiritual connection.

Imagine what you could do with a substance like that in the interest of bettering yourself and the world, from helping you design incredible architecture like Machu Picchu or amazing technology like the iPhone, to easing suffering by providing people with a sense of meaning and peace with their own mortality. And imagine that this substance is incredibly inexpensive and easy to use. One might view this substance as a gift from heaven.

Well, the reality is that this substance—in fact, many forms of it—do exist. It has been used by humans around the world for millennia. It is known most commonly under the umbrella term of psychedelics although other terms like entheogens or hallucinogens are used. Classical psychedelics are those that bind with the Serotonin 2A receptor in critical regions of the brain for example psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and LSD.

Starting my path down Stoicism…


From Reddit

After years of exploring philosophy and coming from a dogmatic religious background, I have decided to follow stoicism for my own reasons. Started with “Letters of a Stoic” by Seneca. Anything I should expect on my journey? Anything you wish someone would’ve told you?

heelcake says…

Seneca is a great place to start, as is Marcus Aurelius. Here are a few tips.

  • Do the practices. Practice as often as possible. There are a number of routines to choose from. This is a good summary of what’s available to you.
  • Seek discomfort. When it comes to how you practice, don’t just do the easy things. Make yourself uncomfortable. Where you hesitate to go is exactly where you should aim.
  • Identify your role models. It is easy to deceive yourself, so you should regularly compare your behavior with that of your role models.
  • Question every impulse, every emotion, and assumption. Things are often not what they seem to be. It is your task to determine good from bad, vice from virtue.
  • Be your own cheerleader. Don’t expect anyone else to understand or care about your progress. As Seneca says in “On the Healing Power of the Mind”: “Be your own spectator; seek your own applause.”
  • Identify your vices and get to work immediately. Some will be easier than others to curb. What is it about yourself that you know to be destructive? Start on the simple ones – food is, for example, a good place to start – and work your way up.
  • Be prepared for setbacks. You will fail often. If you recognize your failures, however, you are doing it right.
  • Remain steadfast in your wish to be free. At times you will become disillusioned with the practice, thinking it a waste of time. In truth, no pursuit is more worthy of your time than freeing yourself from the slavery of stupidity and vice.
  • Do not proselytize. You are doing this first for yourself. Do not engage in “spiritual materialism,” as Chogyam Trungpa put it. Virtue is not another possession for you to parade around. By proselytizing, you can easily slip into self-aggrandizing behavior.
  • Rid yourself of toxic people. Their behavior is contagious.