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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mashups worth mentioning

By the way, the song I posted on Sunday I got from the Best of Bootie mashups, a series of albums consisting of tracks combining songs or audio recordings from the past couple of decades. They're all free to download, and there are some definite gems in there. For example, did you know that Avril Levigne goes well with Toni Basil, that the Jackson 5 gets along famously with Guns n' Roses, or that LL Cool J and Dexy's Midnight Runners are a match made in heaven?  I thought not. But don't take my word for it...

"A secular atheist country...dominated by radical Islamists"

Doesn't care about the difference between a secular nation
and a Muslim theocracy, and you shouldn't either.
That's what Newt Gingrich is afraid his country will become by the time his grandchildren are adults, if people like him do not themselves dominate. The full quote:
"I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."
Ten years of right-wingers attempting to portray radical Muslims as the bosom buddies of liberals/secularists/atheists (take your pick; they sure treat them as identical), and it hasn't gotten any more convincing for some reason. Sorry Newt, but I just can't seem to swallow the idea that a people who are highly religious and morally opposed to homosexuality, abortion, feminism, and freedom of expression (which includes the freedom to blaspheme) are more like me than you.

But of course speeches like this aren't intended for people like me. They're intended for people whose gorges don't rise at the mere thought of electing someone like Newt president. Those are the only people who could listen to someone describe a secular atheist country dominated by radical Muslims with a straight face, unaware of or unconcerned about (not sure which is worse) the utterly nonsensical nature of that statement. The kind of people who would actually turn up by the thousands to hear Newt speak in a church in my fair state. I do not understand these people.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday links

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday links

  • Dan Savage reports that pro-gay marriage advocates are protesting outside the home of a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding: "Not cool."
  • Radley Balko points to a story of New Jersey police arresting five teenagers after a noise complaint...and then leaving them in the police van out in the freezing cold for fourteen hours without food, water, or access to a bathroom. I'm curious what will happen to the officers in question.
  • Hehmant Mehta at Friendly Atheist wants to know how many Christian pastors actually believe in Hell, and whether they mention it at the funerals of people they believe are going there.  
  • Dr. X's Free Associations posts a Youtube video from an 8th grader about her experiences being bullied that probably matches, word for word, what a lot of us experienced at that age. The difference is that Youtube wasn't around when we were 13, so we couldn't post such videos and have it get attention from school officials. Here's hoping that in her case, they use the information wisely.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Video game death

Boingboing produced this video montage of deaths in the old school age of video games (Atari and NES/Sega mostly, for you young'uns). Along with the memories, the music is actually what makes it-- it has a serene yet wistful feeling, bringing to mind the monologue at the end of American Beauty as though it had been spoken by a video game character:
Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... plus the three additional ones I earned in those dungeons on levels 5 and 7.

Why should we care where Sarah Palin got her bunny (and how many shots it took)?

The designated Badass Quote of the Day for today over on Dispatches is from Jason Easley at Politics USA:
Sarah Palin has become the political equivalent of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. America regrets the one night stand they had with Palin, but now she has broken into our house and is ready to boil our bunny. Sarah Palin is America’s ultimate political stalker. It all makes you wonder where Michael Douglas is when we need him most.
Which is indeed a great quote, although I'd distance myself by saying that she's more like the stalker with whom my housemate had a one night stand-- I had nothing to do with it, thanks very much, and would have evicted that housemate long ago for entirely different reasons if such a thing were possible.

But the following exchange in the comments caught my interest:
Sarah Palin does not boil bunnys.She shoots them with high powered rifles with sniper scopes.
you forgot "from helicopters". And that it takes her an average of 7 shots to hit them. 
We're probably all familiar with the "hunting from helicopters" bit. But where does the "7 shots" thing come from?  Well, this-- an opinion piece in USA Today describing Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC:
The caribou hunt episode provides a centerpiece of the series' excesses, as well as Palin's ineptitude. According to script, it's Palin's turn to replenish the family's dwindling freezer with wild meat — from an Alaska point of view, all good. But the logistics of the trip defy common sense. Instead of hunting within reasonable distance of home, her party flies 600-plus miles to a remote camp in multiple chartered aircraft. This isn't subsistence but the sort of experiential safari popular among high-end, non-resident sport hunters. For all that, Palin ends up with a skinny juvenile cow caribou. Boned out, we're talking maybe 100 pounds of meat, at a staggering cost per pound
Faced with that hapless animal, this darling of Second Amendment supporters nervously asks her dad whether the small-caliber rifle kicks. Then, even more astoundingly, her father repeatedly works the bolt and loads for her as she misses shot after shot before scoring a kill on the seventh round — enough bullets for a decent hunter to take down at least five animals. (Given Palin's infamous tweet "Don't retreat, reload," we can infer she plans to keep her dad close by.) Later, Palin blames the scope, but any marksman would recognize the flinching, the unsteady aim and poor shot selection — and the glaring ethical fault of both shooter and gun owner if the rifle wasn't properly sighted. Instead of some frontier passion play, we're rendered a dark comedy of errors.
Why should we give a damn about whether Sarah Palin can hunt, and whether she does so efficiently?  Is making fun of that just a cheap shot (pardon the pun)?  After all, how many of us could go out and easily kill something to feed our family for dinner?

Probably not many, but that's really beside the point. The point is populism, or what should be a failure thereof.  It's perfectly okay with me if Sarah Palin is a lousy hunter. What's not okay is that hunting (presumably well, presumably for a purpose aside from show) is part of the persona she has adopted in order to appeal to a certain demographic, and it seems pretty clear that the persona is contrived. This led to a rather fascinating discussion amongst Ed's readers, some of whom live in Michigan or other northern states in which hunting is a way of life, about what exactly being a good hunter means. Apparently it means being responsible and trying to minimize suffering. It means not taking a shot unless you are pretty sure it's the only shot you're going to need to take. It means you know your weapon intimately and can operate it safely and effectively by yourself. Pretty much common sense, right?  Even a non-hunter should be able to guess those rules, and expect that anyone who claims to be an active hunter would abide by them.

Not Ted Nugent:

To be fair, it's possible that Nugent just didn't know that Palin's hunting abilities are a façade.  He probably just heard all of the rhetoric on the subject and thought "Hey, one of my kind!" I know that Nugent himself is perceived by many as a whackjob and that reputation is not undeserved, but:
  • A lot of people do like and listen to him, and
  • When he talks about hunting and sustainability, I can't help but half-nod in agreement.
He's wrong, of course, that hunting is sustainable. America simply could not feed itself on the same diet we're accustomed to now if the meat we ate came from hunting alone. We could not eat meat to the same degree that actual hunters do now if we all had to get our meat only from hunting-- there just aren't enough wild animals out there. If we all turned into Ted Nugent tomorrow, we would almost certainly hunt the prominent game animals into extinction. There are just too many of us. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with being a hunter, but for that reason alone it's misguided to suggest that we all should become hunters even if we were so inclined (which is a tremendous "if").

What's unfortunate is not just that Nugent doesn't appear to realize that, but that he thinks that just because Palin is gung-ho about hunting (whether she can actually do it or not), she's on board with his sustainability thing. That she gives a damn about preserving God's earth, the balance between man and nature, and the general glamorized picture of hunting that Nugent appears to genuinely believe in.  Which means that Nugent, in addition to being a nutter, is a sucker. I feel kind of sorry for the guy-- Sarah Palin really isn't good enough for him, as much as he wants to believe she is. 

Standards, gun-toting God-praising right-wingers....you need 'em.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

You make the music go back; you hear Satan speakin'

Pareidolia ( /pærɪˈdoʊliə/ parr-i-DOH-lee-ə) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- – "beside", "with", or "alongside"—meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech) and eidōlon – "image"; the diminutive of eidos – "image", "form", "shape". Pareidolia is a type of apophenia.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two methods of shaming women out of getting abortions

Let's say you're pregnant, and really don't want to be. Maybe you were raped and conceived as a result, or maybe your birth control just failed. After thinking the matter over, you've decided that an abortion is what you want. It isn't something you take lightly, but you feel that it's the right decision. Once you make it, which would be worse to experience?

1. According to state law, before you can get an abortion you must go to a "pregnancy help center." There you will be given a lecture by a volunteer counselor who may be overtly religious or may not.  This person will not need to have any particular certification or license. Their sole job will be to convince you to keep the pregnancy. By law, they will have to inform you that your abortion would "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

2. According to state law, if you want an abortion you must submit to a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure. It's not terribly unusual to be given a sonogram at some point before an abortion, but in this case it will be mandated by the state for every woman who wants an abortion, because the governor and Congress want you to re-think your decision.  This will be required even if your pregnancy is the result or rape or incest, or if you want the abortion because your fetus has fatal abnormalities. If you are not given the sonogram, your doctor will lose his/her medical license. The procedure is intended to confront you with the fact that your embryo has a heartbeat-- whether it actually does at the time or not-- and resembles a human, although if you wish you can completely disregard both of those by not looking and wearing headphones.

The former is now the case in South Dakota. The latter is legislation that was recently passed by the Texas State House. The Senate passed a slightly milder version, one which allows exceptions for victims of sexual assault, a 2-hour distance from the abortion rather than 24, and would not punish doctors who will not perform the sonogram.Currently they're duking it out about which version will prevail, though Governor Rick Perry has denoted the legislation in general an "emergency" and is eager to sign off on it.

A friend described such requirements as a "modern poll tax," and I can definitely see it. These restrictions do not discriminate amongst women who want abortions-- unless (as is entirely possible) they will need be paid for by her, in which case getting an abortion will become even more costly and poorer women will have an even more difficult time affording one. However, they are created for the express purpose of creating additional obstacles in the way of exercising a freedom that is Constitutionally protected. They perpetuate the myth that women who want abortions are themselves like children, and don't know what they're doing. If they could only be confronted with the truth, they might change their minds-- it would be silly to presume that they have given extensive thought to the decision beforehand, or that they have been advised sufficiently by their own doctors. Not only does the state need to intervene in the physician-client relationship, but it needs to do so using sheer emotional appeal. Because in addition to being ignorant, women are emotional, not rational human beings.

Leslee Unruh, owner of one of South Dakota's pregnancy help centers, taunts asks "What are they so afraid of? That women might change their minds?" No, Leslee. We trust in a woman's ability to make this most private decision regarding her body herself, in consultation with her doctor. That's why we're not trying to get legislation passed which allows us to browbeat women into getting abortions. Believe it or not, abortion providers and those of us who support them aren't out to get every fetus aborted. It isn't about ignorance versus informed decision-making; it's about paternalism versus autonomy. The difference, whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, should be clear as day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Freedom for me, but not for thee" of the day

From the American Family Association's spokesman, Bryan Fischer:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Isn't it interesting how people claim that the Constitution is not a "suicide pact" when they want to refuse to acknowledge something clearly guaranteed in it, but dollars to donuts are the same ones who will be thrusting said document into the air and yelling at the top of their lungs should someone come along who says the same thing about something they actually value?  

The First Amendment, last I checked, singles out no particular religion when it acknowledges both our freedom to religious expression and restrains the government from foisting its own expressions upon us.  Nor is it accurate to say that the founders had no intention of protecting freedom of religious expression for Muslims:

In his seminal Letter on Toleration (1689), John Locke insisted that Muslims and all others who believed in God be tolerated in England. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson followed Locke, his idol, in demanding recognition of the religious rights of the "Mahamdan," the Jew and the "pagan." Supporting Jefferson was his old ally, Richard Henry Lee, who had made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence. "True freedom," Lee asserted, "embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion." 
In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted with satisfaction that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" an effort to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan."

And the atheist? Well, that's another story. But it's absurd on its face to claim that the right to religious expression exists for Christians alone. If it did, then the word "freedom" would hardly describe it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We've all got our own stuff

Again on Colorlines (I'm really happy to have discovered that site), Thoi Lu discusses black male feminism:
In light of the recent 11-year-old Latina who was reportedly gang raped by 18 black men in Cleveland and news of Chris Brown’s continuing meltdowns, Texas, a few black male writers have stepped up to the plate to explicitly discuss their journey toward becoming feminists. 
Byron Hurt of The Root wrote last last week on “Why I am a Male Feminist,” which prompted G.D. of PostBourgie to also write candidly about the topic two days later. 
Hurt admitted that observing the way his father would invoke fear in his mother during arguments by virtue of his greater size influenced his own relationships with women. He fell into feminism accidentally; Hurt interviewed for a position with the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project, not knowing that it was designed to use the status of athletes to make gender violence socially unacceptable. 
After hearing how women protected themselves from sexual assault and rape, his conception of feminism radically changed:
Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men… Not only does feminism give woman a voice, but it also clears the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity. When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.
While Hurt’s father’s presence was inescapable, G.D. wrote, “mine was imperceptible.” He had an absent father figure and was raised by “black women who were fantastically smarter and more competent than I was."  
G.D. internalized how his mother always cautioned his twin sister to be responsible while in public, in a way he didn’t have to. Also, during a college summer, one of his female friends woke up in an empty dorm room in a bare bed and had to file a police report and get a rape kit, which was another situation he couldn’t fathom living through. At the least, however, he admits to his own ignorance:
I am routinely very, very dumb about this shit as a heterosexual dude — with all the tunnel vision and privilege that attends that location. The relationship those realities have to my blackness is a muddled one; sometimes they’re independent, sometimes they act in concert. But if growing up black and poor and male provided an unlikely bridge to anti-sexist thinking, so has feminism complicated the way I think about blackness and class.
Feminism as an ideology has a reputation for being a privilege of white women. They have been the ones who have generally been wealthier and more educated, the ones with the time and money to go off to university and take Women's Studies courses and sit around discussing the patriarchy and learning to appreciate the value of a vagina. Black women were too busy working. They didn't have time to do the kind of navel-gazing white women did in the 60's (and still today) about the feminine mystique and the legitimacy of working outside the home, because they were already doing it. The issues they faced weren't quite the same. So black women felt that their struggles were not being properly represented by a movement that purported to speak on behalf of Womankind. If in actuality it's all about the interests of upper class white women, then we might as well just say so, but hopefully none of us actually want that to be the case. If we mean that, then being a feminist should be about representing the concerns of all women. If there is a single woman of any sort anywhere in the world who is being mistreated and her choices in life denied, we should all be feminists for her...shouldn't we?

There are multiple dimensions to distribution of power in life, and it's not surprising that one minority group should view one or more other minorities groups with oppressive eyes very similar to the ones with which they themselves are viewed. Hence, you get rich minorities looking down on the poor, white minorities looking down on minorities of different races, male minorities looking down on females, straight minorities looking down on non-straights, cisgender minorities looking down on transgenders, and various religious minorities looking down on each other and on non-believers. I'm sure there are more examples, but that's a good representative sampling. I can see how if you're anything but a white straight rich cisgender male, it would be easy to pick one or more minority groups to look down on order to get some sense of superiority. It's not shocking at all that there are white feminist racists and homophobes, and blacks who are passionately concerned with racial equality but are themselves homophobic and/or misogynistic. Having your own struggle doesn't automatically flip on some kind of empathy switch for other people's struggles, as nice as that would be.

I don't think I need to imply that men should speak for women in order to say that it's an absolute pleasure to see/hear of them speaking up on our behalf. Often we're not there to speak up for ourselves, and it has never made sense to me to think that it's okay to make sexist/racist/homophobic/etc. comments just because someone who represents the group you're talking about isn't present. This post from from A Division By Zer0 makes the point that there are some men out there who think that rape is okay, provided you don't call it "rape." It's sort of like murder, in that "murder" is the name for killing that is definitely wrong, and "rape" is the a name for a kind of sexual contact that is definitely wrong. But just as there are people who murder while considering it acceptable killing (for whatever reason), there are people who rape or would be willing to rape while considering it plain ol' sex. The argument goes that by trivializing rape around such people, you are confirming in their minds that it is in fact trivial--giving them the impression that it's normal to think the way they do, that there's nothing wrong with it. The same is true of casual sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia. If the victims of these prejudices are the only ones to ever speak up in reaction to them, they will never be eliminated. That's why we need feminist men, along with straight LGBT rights advocates, white racial equality advocates, and wealthy people who not only give to charity but don't think of the poor as stupid, helpless, or otherwise inherently lesser.  

I realize how very kumbaya this sounds, but we all have to stand up for all of us. There's just no other way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Follow-up: Jesus Chicken edition

I wrote before about how the conservative Christian-affiliated chicken chain Chik-Fil-A has received some very negative feedback about their contributions toward anti-gay political causes.  Here's the latest on that:
Focus St. Louis and the Clayton Chamber of Commerce said today that they are canceling a planned presentation by Dan Cathy, president and COO of Chick-fil-A, following complaints that Cathy and his company are involved with anti-gay organizations. . .  
The decision to cancel Cathy's March 18 presentation here was made after PROMO, a statewide organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, protested his appearance and asked Focus and the Chamber of Commerce to reconsider. 
Ellen Gale, the head of the chamber, said today that when the groups agreed to co-sponsor Cathy's appearance, they had no idea he held controversial views.  
"We are a pro-diversity culture here and certainly don't want to offend anyone," Gale said. "We didn't know anything about this when he was booked."  
Equality Matters replies (I paraphrase) "Damn skippy," and lists extensive documentation of everything they dug up on Chik-Fil-A's contributions and communications.

Religion going extinct? I doubt it.

The BBC reports on a paper recently presented at the American Physical Society meeting here in Dallas which makes claims about a decreasing level of religiosity in some parts of the world.  The paper, entitled "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation," suggests that religion will effectively be extinguished in certain parts of the world just as certain languages die out due to lack of usage.  One of the paper's authors elaborates:
"The idea is pretty simple," said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona. 
"It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. 
"For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there's some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not." 
Dr Wiener continued: "In a large number of modern secular democracies, there's been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%." 
The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the "non-religious" category.
I'm skeptical.  The most obvious distinction that jumps out when comparing languages to religion is, at least to my knowledge, that at no point in history have people stopped using language.  They have stopped using specific languages in favor of other ones, just as they have stopped adhering to certain religions and converted to others.  But they haven't cast religion aside. The study discusses how many people would answer that they are non-religious or have no religious affiliation, but that does not answer, as psychologist Bruce Hood points out, whether they have abandoned supernatural beliefs.  As I've mentioned before, there is a difference between being "non-religious," being an atheist, and being a naturalist/materialist, and I don't consider it accurate to say that religion has become "extinct" in a population unless its members fit the latter description.  Which, quite honestly, I don't see ever happening.

Why be such a stickler about this?  Well, because when you talk to a person who says that she doesn't consider herself to be religious (or worse, "non-affiliated"), digging a little deeper may reveal that she actually believes that the universe is God, that prayer and willpower cause wishes to come true, that everything happens for a cosmic reason, that casting spells works, and/or that everyone will be reincarnated after they die.  Her pantheism may disqualify her from being properly labeled an atheist, but the rest of it wouldn't.  And even if she believes in none of those things she may well believe in ghosts, alien abduction, extra-sensory perception, Tarot-reading, and/or Reiki, which you might call secular supernatural ideas.  And to me, a god has more in common with a ghost than a cross has with a Tibetan prayer flag.  The latter two may both signify religious beliefs, but the former are both supernatural agents about which humans have a stunning number of intuitive beliefs in common.  That is, we use the same mental tools to conceive of and believe in them.

And if I'm right about that, then we will probably will carry on in these beliefs for as long as we have the kinds of minds that find them appealing.  I'm also not convinced that religious violence is fundamentally different in kind from any other violence which is rooted in a notion of a transcendent force which unifies one's own group against whatever group(s) it views as threatening.  I don't believe that it takes religion to make good men do bad things-- or, for that matter, for bad men to do good.  I don't see the extinction of religion specifically, even on a completely voluntary basis, as some kind of goal toward which we should all be striving.  Which is a good thing, considering that it probably won't come to pass.

Unlike Hood, however, I do think we should strive toward rationality always, identify and eliminate bias wherever it can be found, and in general try to always have our skeptic's hats on.  I consider supernatural thinking a mistake even if it's an adaptive one. That doesn't mean I have to single out people who think supernaturally as sui generis irrational, because we all do it occasionally.  And it certainly doesn't mean I have to single out people who consider themselves religious as essentially thinking differently from, and/or worse or better than, everyone else.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Update

I submitted a version of my "Helping vs. blaming in Japan" post to State of Formation, modified to include more commentary on the psychology of seeing supernatural agency in disasters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Again...tragedy + internet = outrage and nastiness.

A few days ago a UCLA student named Alexandra Wallace posted this charming racist rant about Asians in her university library:
If you're one of the few people in the country who hadn't seen that video previously, I'm sure you're edified to have had the privilege now.  And can probably guess the response, if I haven't given it away already-- yes, outrage and nastiness.  The "outrage" part is good-- it's certainly better than apathy or agreement.  But the nastiness is a different story.  Jorge Rivas at Colorlines reports:
Alexandra Wallace’s now famous rant against Asian students at UCLA has been seen more than five million times.* Countless more people have seen or read about the video in the New York Times, Gawker, the UK’s Daily Mail and elsewhere. And in all these places, the video prompted outraged commentary from readers and viewers who told Wallace about her racism—and, in the process, slung mounds of misogyny her way, too. (Not to mention posting her address and, reportedly, sending her death threats.) 
Even on Colorlines.com and Jezebel.com, which targets a largely progressive female readership, many of the comments posted in response to Wallace were loaded with sexist name-calling. “I’m sure her mom also taught her to make sure you wear a tight tank top that exposes your boobs when ranting about Asian students on video,” a commenter wrote on Jezebel. On our site, the word “bimbo” thrived. 
Caroline Heldman at Ms. Magazine’s blog reminded readers that oppression comes in many different forms. She offers a hypothetical for comparison: “Imagine if an African American man posted a sexist video and commenters responded with a steady stream of racial slurs.” 
The point isn’t to equate race and gender. Rather, Heldman’s question offers a good place to start a discussion. What if Alexandra Wallace was black or Latina and people called her racial epithets? Would people be OK with that? Probably not. But some of the most popular comedic web videos of people of color sounding off against Wallace include starkly misogynistic language and ideas. . . 
 The Daily Bruin reports that Wallace, who issued an apology for the video, contacted university police on Sunday evening after receiving hundreds of threats via e-mail and phone. She’s been advised to reschedule her finals because her address and school schedule have been posted online.
*facepalm*

Channing Kennedy, also at Colorlines, summed it up well: "the Internet’s rebuttal to Wallace fought unexamined bigotry and hateful language with unexamined bigotry and hateful language."  And death threats, because you can't have footage of yourself doing or saying anything offensive on the internet anymore without death threats.  I'm sure that's partially due to the tragedy factor, but other recent examples that have nothing to do with the tragedy include the Australian bully in a recent video who got smacked down by his victim and a British woman who put a cat in a trash bin.  The internet is full of hateful, hypocritical people who apparently see themselves as the agents of karma.  I know this has been the case for a long time, but the fact is making itself especially salient to me now.  

On the brighter side, Kennedy writes
a must-read thread on Facebook digs deep into the intersectionality of race and gender in Wallace’s video and in the responses. You should read the whole thing, but by way of an excerpt, here’s Sulekha Gangopadhyay: 
I didn’t find the misogynistic responses calling her a “slut”, “bimbo” or “whore” particularly empowering for me as a woman of color; men of color who rely on compensatory sexism have generally not been my allies.
Two different readers, Helen Lopez and Phoenix Activists, pointed us toward this response video by spoken-word artist Beau Sia, written from Wallace’s perspective. Phoenix says “Here’s the only non-sexist and most thought-provoking video response I’ve seen; it really makes us think how people like Wallace have the sentiments they have to begin with.”
They're right. It really is an excellent video, and should be seen by everyone who has watched Ms. Wallace's:

ETA:  There is some talk about what action UCLA could take against Wallace, whether she should be punished for violating their speech code.  I don't know whether there are grounds or not, but also don't care-- I don't think universities should have speech codes to begin with.  The chancellor has already made a public comment condemning what she said, which is rather silly considering that no rational person would assume that the racist beliefs of a college student somehow reflect the views of the university he/she attends. But to the point, universities should absolutely not punish students for bigoted speech on Youtube-- and if they do, then they had better figure out whether all of those people who have made hateful videos about Wallace are bigots as well, and whether they're also UCLA students so as to determine whether a mass expulsion is in order.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Helping vs. blaming in Japan

Over at Religion Dispatches Levi McLaughlin, a professor of religion who specializes in East Asian traditions, writes about Tokyo's governor Shintaro Ishihara describing the tsunami that struck Japan as "divine punishment."
Ishihara, a prize-winning novelist, stage and screen actor, and a populist hero of the Japanese right, has gained notoriety for his willingness to court controversy, but his take on the tragedy in northeastern Japan offended even his staunchest supporters. On March 14, just three days into the crisis, Ishihara told reporters that he saw the tsunami as “divine punishment,” or tenbatsu, a term usually employed in Japanese to describe a righteous and inevitable punishment of the wicked. For Ishihara, the tsunami produced by Japan’s largest-ever recorded earthquake was a means of washing away the “egoism” (gayoku in Japanese) afflicting the Japanese people.  
While the Tokyo Governor said that he felt sorry for the victims, he concluded that “We need a tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time.”  
Ishihara, who will seek a fourth term as Tokyo Governor in a 2013 election, apologized publicly the next day, following comments by Miyagi Prefecture Governor Yoshihiro Murai, leader of the prefecture closest to the quake epicenter. Murai condemned Ishihara and urged sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of victims suffering in northern Japan. Despite Ishihara’s expression of regret, his “divine punishment” comment lingers as the most widely known religious sentiment yet expressed by a high-profile Japanese public figure in reaction to the current crisis. It resonates with similar remarks made in the United States following disasters, such as those by Pat Robertson in 2005, who described Hurricane Katrina as divine retribution for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts upholding Roe vs. Wade, or the televised conversation between Robertson and Jerry Falwell on September 13, 2001 in which they characterized the attack on the Twin Towers as God’s punishment for American tolerance of “abortionists,” gays, feminists and the ACLU. 
In his willingness to attribute this current natural disaster to divine influence, Ishihara joins the esteemed ranks of Glenn Beck, who was equally sure that a message was being sent but a bit less specific about what it was:
What God does is God's business, I have no idea. But I'll tell you this -- whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus, there's a message being sent. And that is, "Hey you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it."
The need to believe that everything happens for a reason and that good will be rewarded with good while bad is punished by bad is called just-world bias, and it's on full display here.  You could point out to Ishihara or Beck that the cause of earthquakes is actually plate tectonics which were set in place long before Japan was Japan, but the answer would almost certainly be "I know-- and why do you think that was?  Why did it happen now?"  

Well, for reasons someone with more geological knowledge than I could doubtless explain, but that simply pushes the question back another notch.  There has to be an ultimate explanation in this thinking, and "That's the way the world is" isn't good enough.  It's not hard to sympathize with this desire to find reasons behind it all, because having reasons makes it easier for us to cope-- or at least, it seems like it does.  But when people try to draw a direct connection between a disaster and a punishment from some divine power it sounds an awful lot like blaming the victim, doesn't it?  Strange how it's so rare that you hear someone who has suffered due to a disaster saying "Yes, that was obviously God's cosmic punishment for my behavior."  No, it's almost always somebody else's suffering that was earned.  I wonder if Governor Ishihara counts himself amongst the "egotistical" people who needed to be taught this terrible lesson.  

On a brighter note, McLaughlin notes that the religious populations of Japan do not appear to be paying Ishihara much credence-- they continue to help in relief efforts as they're able:

Temples, shrines, and other religious facilities across the Tohoku region, and elsewhere, have been transformed into refugee centers. An article from March 16 on Asahi.com reports that the priest at the Rinzai Zen temple Jionji in Rikuzentakata village is housing 69 refugees who were treated by doctors and nurses from the Japan Red Cross. Seventy to eighty percent of the town’s 8000 households were wiped out by the tsunami. 
Jodo Shinshu, Japan’s largest traditional Buddhist sect, has cancelled plans for the 750th memorial of sect founder Shinran. Instead, the Shinshu priesthood has transformed head temple Higashi Honganji in Kyoto into a dispatch center for relief supplies. Temple staff members are loading water, food, and portable stoves into trucks to be sent to the afflicted Tohoku region, and they’ve turned their famous garden Shoseien into a center for fundraising; and this at a time when the 115 Higashi Honganji Jodo Shinshu temples in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures have been damaged, clergy in Sendai have been killed, and the sect is unable to make contact with seven temples. 
Meanwhile, leaders of the Pure Land Buddhist sect Jodoshu report that they’re unable to contact approximately twenty of the 300 sect temples in these prefectures; they’ve also assigned their headquarter staff to gather funds and supplies. Rinzai Zen headquarters in Kyoto have dedicated their staff to raising funds for emergency relief. The Soto Zen headquarters at Eiheiji reports that it has mobilized clergy to accompany members of its volunteer organization Shanti International Association who will travel to northeastern Japan to aid in relief efforts. Staff at the head temple of Nichirenshu, the largest sect of Nichiren Buddhism, is still contacting its temples in northeastern Japan, and it has cancelled all other activities in favor of fundraising. It’s likely that the leaders of every other traditional Buddhist denomination have dedicated their staff to raising money and gathering materials for earthquake relief. 
Shinto organizations have also pitched in. Shinseikyo, or the National Association of Shinto Youth, immediately established a “Disaster Policy Committee” responsible for fundraising and contacting Shinto priests in the disaster area. The Shinseiky message board is now filled with inquiries seeking contact with Shinto clergy in shrines that cannot be contacted and are most likely destroyed. 
Christians in Japan, who make up less than one percent of the country’s population, consistently initiate successful and high-profile social welfare activities, and they have leapt into action to provide relief. On March 12, mere hours after the quake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, the YMCA in Kobe began soliciting relief funds; as an organization that survived the January 17, 1995 earthquake in western Japan and provided relief to residents in Kobe, they are eager to help victims of this latest natural disaster.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An observation

The video of TamTamPamela thanking God for the Japanese earthquake was all over the web yesterday.  I'm kind of disappointed in how willing people were to buy it without question.  Not because it's a skepticism fail per se (I fall for Poes often-- that's the point of a Poe), but because they were so ready to believe that someone would be that hateful and already had their outrage pants on, good to go.

Guess I shouldn't be surprised, as tragedy tends to magnify everything.  It's probably unfair to think that there really are so many people out there who have no problem at all believing such a thing because their expectations of religious people are already that low, and it's actually just that everyone's nerves are on the surface.  I hope.

But we could do with a few less people pointing and saying "This is what religion does to you."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Real-life trolls, part 2

The girl who made a Youtube video glorying in Japan's earthquake, saying that it was God giving the country a "little shake" to send a message regarding his existence to atheists and arousing a lot of outrage...is apparently a troll.

To which I say, good. I'm glad that those (probably) weren't honest statements. But still in really bad taste. Even Pat Robertson doesn't attribute natural disasters to the wrath of an angry God with quite that amount of sheer pleasure, and I don't see anything particularly funny or clever about making up a person who does.  Not when we're talking about a real event in which thousands of people have died and are still dying.  No thanks.

TAM 9 speakers

The Amazing Meeting has announced its list of speakers for this year, its ninth meeting.  There are a lot of them, and quite a few-- at least ten, from what I can tell-- are people who can speak to the topic of how and why people believe weird things.  Or rather, why everyone isn't skeptical all of the time.  That's really encouraging.  If I were able to go, I'd make sure to attend those talks.  However accomplished a scientist or entertainer you are, I'm just not as interested in hearing how sure you are that ghosts and gods don't exist and/or making fun of people who think they do.  That's not to say that those topics don't have their place, but they just don't really grab me anymore.  Well, not unless the non-skeptical are trying to implement their non-skeptical beliefs via legislation or terrorism, in which case I'm definitely interested but it's less about the lack of skepticism than about the use of force to push it.

But hey-- it's their meeting and I'm not going (can't afford it), so who cares what I think?  It's just nice to see skeptics being interested in the hows and whys regarding "woo" and not just the whats.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More follow-up: the difference between neutrality and objectivity

Journalist Lauri Lebo wrote a book about Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the 2005 creationism case which occurred in her home state of Pennsylvania.  Prior to the actual court battle she had been covering the situation locally in newspapers, reporting on what transpired at school board meetings and such.  During and after the trial, however, she was accused by her newspaper editor of failing to be properly objective because she noted when creationist members of the school board perjured themselves on the stand and when their arguments were blasted out of the water by legal and scientific authorities.  Her editor, you see, actually wanted her to be neutral-- to present both sides as if they were equally legitimate.  But they weren't, and writing as if they were would constitute a failure to present the story factually.  Journalists are supposed to gather different perspectives on the stories they tell, but they should not be expected to be neutral.  Lebo expresses this concept beautifully in The Devil in Dover: objective reporting is not treating both sources as legitimate if one source has the truth on its side and the other is full of crap.  Objectivity is not making sure you include some nonsense to balance out your sense, or vice versa.  It's being as truthful as possible, no matter who that bothers.

That's the problem I have with this response from the New York Times to the "outrage" about the original McKinley story on the gang rape in Cleveland, Texas-- it acknowledges simply that the story "lacked a critical balancing element."  That it contained no quotes of someone sympathizing with the victim rather than the perpetrators.  That it wasn't neutral.  And yes, the story would have been better if it had included some of those quotes, rather than giving the impression that nobody in Cleveland cares about the girl who was raped, as I surely hope is not the case.  It would have come closer to representing the truth.  But the truth itself isn't neutral.  The truth is that it's called rape for a reason, and that is that the victim is never to blame, even slightly.  It seems extra abhorrent because the girl was only eleven years old, but this would be just as true if they had gang-raped a twenty-eight year old woman.  That's a fact that might have escaped a number of people in the Cleveland area, but it ought to be expressed overtly by someone reporting on the situation objectively: "Somebody in this story suggested something that isn't true.  Here are the actual facts."  And don't tell me that reporters have an obligation to keep their opinions out of their stories-- that might be true, but the law is not a matter of opinion, and the law says that it doesn't matter what the girl was wearing or how much makeup she had on, why she was in a dangerous part of town, or where her parents were.  If she was raped, she was raped, and that is entirely the fault of the men and boys who perpetrated it.  Period.

Should we, as a readership, have known this full well and not have needed to have it pointed out to us?  Yes, absolutely.  But clearly that's not the case-- not if anyone from Cleveland (for example) reads the New York Times.  I would say that they should, except that apparently they won't find any corrections on their misconceptions there.  At least, not today.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Follow-up: New York Times responds to complaints about their reporting

...poorly:
The Times responded Wednesday evening to The Cutline: "Neighbors' comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk," said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the paper. "As for residents' references to the accused having to 'live with this for the rest of their lives,' those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter's reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old." 
With all due respect, Ms. Ha, I think you kind of missed the point.

More Savage loving

Conversation continues about interpretation of Dan Savage's sexual ethics.  Savage himself responds to Lindsay Beyerstein thusly:
Terry and I wouldn't describe ourselves as monogamous-apart-from-an-occassional because we wouldn't—couldn't—feel comfortable using the word "monogamous" in reference to ourselves, not even monogamous-with-an-asterisks, because technically we're, you know, not. But we kindasorta hate the term non-monogamous because when a gay couple describes themselves as non-monogamous people—gay and straight—assume a degree of promiscuousness that 1. we wouldn't be comfortable engaging in and 2. we're not actually engaging in. People don't make the same assumption about non-monogamous straight couples because it's generally more difficult for straight people to get laid. 
That's why we usually describe our loving, bill-paying, childrearing life partnership as "monogamish." Mostly monogamous but stuff happens. Some other stuff. Sometimes. Not all the times. It's a term that I'd like to popularize. 
Our monogamish relationship—and I suspect that we're not the only monogamish couple out there—has allowed us to integrate "sexual fulfillment with the other good things in life" quite nicely, thanks.
On Big Think, Dueholm complains that Savage doesn't hold up monogamy as an ideal.  He's right-- Savage doesn't, because he clearly doesn't think it is ideal.  He doesn't say it's something for which we all should strive, but if we fail it's understandable.  He says that it isn't necessarily something we should all strive for, period.  We should strive for what we want, and not everybody wants monogamy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How not to represent rape: a report on a Texas travesty

A horrible crime happened in Cleveland, Texas.  A small town just northeast of Houston, it has a population of only 9,000 people, but that apparently includes up to 18 boys and men who were willing to take part in the gang rape of an eleven year old girl.  I imagine that the fallout from this event will be extensive and the investigation will take quite some time (it began just after Thanksgiving of last year), but the coverage in the New York Times has already come under fire because of how it chose to portray the story.  The offending passages:
The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?
“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” . . .
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said. 
“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”
After reading the article my first reaction was "Wow, blame the victim much?"  And I apparently wasn't alone--  Jezebel, Feministing, and Slate all have commentaries about how the article appears to focus on how the men and boys in this community are going to suffer from this incident and what could have prompted them to behave in this way, up to and including the suggestion that the victim is actually to blame for what happened to her. It is of course worth being concerned about whether people who actually weren't involved in the crime might have been accused unjustly, but that specific worry isn't actually mentioned in the body of the article.  Nor are the obvious attempts by members of the community to find some way to pin responsibility for the rape on this young girl labeled for what they are-- victim-blaming.  Libby Copeland wonders
How can the New York Times fail to frame these quotes properly, to point out the stunning cultural misogyny that allows a brutal gang rape to be reinterpreted as vigilante moral policing? To report these details bare, without context, puts the misogyny squarely in the voice of the Times.  
The kindest reading of what makes people blame the victims of rape is fear. We don’t want to imagine that what happened to this 11-year-old could happen to us or to our daughters, so we rationalize that it couldn’t, that we are not like her. But there’s much more going on. There’s deep-seated fear of and disgust for women and female sexuality. We don’t have the same reaction to a boy getting beat up as we do to a girl getting raped; we don’t tend to wonder what the boy did to provoke the bully.
Here’s the thing: Any attempt to gain emotional distance on rape by transferring just a tiny portion, just one percent, of the blame onto the victim is an absolute moral wrong. It subtracts from the agency of the individual doing the raping. He is completely culpable. It is his crime -- or, in the case of 18 young men and boys, it is theirs.
Amanda Marcotte blames this strange story-telling on journalistic objectivity gone too far:
I was under the impression that gang raping children is generally assumed to be such a horrific crime that reporters don't have to strike a studied neutral pose, as you would with more overtly controversial issues, but apparently not. 
I feel strongly there's a missed opportunity here.  I grew up in a rural Texas town on the other end of the state, and have more than a passing familiarity with how common it is for these kinds of communities to be shockingly tolerant of gang rape.  I don't think it's radical to point out that victim-blaming and assailant-sympathizing in a community sends permission signals to would-be rapists and makes crimes like this likelier to occur.  This could have been an opportunity to write a story examining the relationship between victim-blaming attitudes and the rapes themselves, much in the way that the murder of James Byrd in nearby Jasper in 1998 became an occasion to look at how racism still thrives in the South and created the context for hate crimes.
I agree, but such a story wouldn't have been less objective-- it would have been more objective, because objectivity isn't simply dutifully recording people's opinions and representing them in print.  It requires actually telling the facts of the story, including the fact that blaming the victim is what your sources are doing.  The story pays almost no attention at all to what the girl who was attacked in this way might have experienced or how difficult it must be to survive it physically and emotionally, but instead discusses how men might have been "drawn into" attacking her and how this ordeal must be affecting them.  I'm not sure it's possible to be excessively neutral or objective, but it's certainly possible to write an article that gives a definite impression of sympathy for the perpetrators, and that's what happened here.  Marcotte is willing to give the article's author, James McKinley, the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had no intention of lending credence to Cleveland residents who saw fit to speculate on how the girl provoked her own victimization.  I would like to do so as well, but if that's the case I'm still mystified as to why the piece was written in this way and these specific quotes used without comment.  That isn't a "studied neutral pose;" it's just bad and biased reporting.

ETA: I missed this sardonic comment by Mac Mclelland at Mother Jones.  Money quote:
This is the point at which, as the writer's editor, I would send him an email. "Dear James," it would say. "Thanks for getting this in! I have some concerns that we've only got quotes from people who are worried about the suspects ('The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next') and think the girl was asking for it, especially since, even if she actually begged for it, the fact that she is 11 makes the incident stupendously reprehensible (not to mention still illegal). We don't want anyone wrongly thinking you are being lazy or thoughtless or misogynist! Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster." 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dan Savage as sexual ethicist

As president?  Well, maybe not...but we could do
and have done a lot worse for that, too.
Lutheran pastor Benjamin Dueholm wrote an interesting and thorough article on this subject for Washington Monthly.  It's definitely worth a read, though I disagree with some of his analysis.  So does Amanda Marcotte, who ripped into the article to some extent for sexist/heteoronormative bias, and Lindsay Beyerstein, who points out that Savage isn't nearly as opposed to monogamy as he is generally portrayed.  It's true; he isn't-- though he also doesn't believe that everybody should be monogamous, or that people who cheat in a monogamous  relationship are necessarily the scum of the earth and should never be forgiven.

Dueholm's careful description of Savage's ethos points out that in relationships he emphasizes honesty, autonomy, reciprocity, and willingness to give, which I would characterize as a mature respect for one's partner. Just as different things make different people happy, different relationships can flourish under varied conditions and one size definitely doesn't fit all.  Savage's willingness to acknowledge that and address individual relationships on their own terms is, I think, what has made and kept his column (and now podcast) so popular for so long.  If we as a country were going to appoint a sexual ethics czar, we could do a lot worse.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Palin clarifies-- that she still doesn't understand freedom of speech

From The Daily Caller:
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin clarified remarks posted on Twitter this week in response to a Supreme Court ruling in favor of a church that demonstrates at military funerals, saying she was making a point about a double standard on free speech, not that the group shouldn’t have the right to protest.
Her quote was interpreted by many news outlets, including The Daily Caller, to mean that she disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling, although in a new statement exclusive to TheDC, Palin said she agreed with the ruling in favor of the church.
“Obviously my comment meant that when we’re told we can’t say ‘God bless you’ in graduation speeches or pray before a local football game but these wackos can invoke God’s name in their hate speech while picketing our military funerals, it shows ridiculous inconsistency,” Palin told TheDC. “I wasn’t calling for any limit on free speech, and it’s a shame some folks tried to twist my comment in that way. I was simply pointing out the irony of an often selective interpretation of free speech rights.”

Oh, of course. Obviously when she said that "common sense and decency" were absent on the occasion of the SCOTUS ruling, that didn't mean she disagreed with the ruling.  How silly of us to think that.  No, Sarah Palin doesn't want to limit free speech-- she wants more of it!  You know, the kind of free speech that allows public school officials to speak on behalf of students to express their religious convictions, whether the students actually hold those convictions or not.  But only Christian convictions, I assume-- not to put words in Palin's mouth, but I would tentatively guess that she wouldn't be so enthusiastic about school officials offering Muslim prayers at graduation or before a football game.

The students, of course, retain their freedom to pray to whomever and invoke whichever god's name they want on these occasions.  So yes, I suppose you could call that a "selective interpretation"-- it selects in favor of the freedom of students rather than the "freedom" of government representatives (which is what public school officials are) to speak on their behalf.  It's a pretty clear distinction, one would think.  But I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Palin doesn't quite get it, considering that she said Dr. Laura Schlessinger's cancellation of her own radio show meant that Schlessinger's First Amendment rights had "ceased to exist."

So, for those keeping score-- criticizing someone's speech means that their right to free speech has ceased to exist.  Unless you're Sarah Palin criticizing someone, in which case you are exercising your freedom of speech to question why there isn't more freedom, including the freedom of governmental officials to make religious pronouncements on behalf of children, which for some reason is the same as "invoking God's name in the public square." Got it?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Speaking of what makes people laugh becoming a moral issue...

...this is pretty much the definition of it.

I'm not sure if I want to write a full-fledged post on this topic or not.  As you can see from that timeline it's a controversy that has been going on since August of last year with frequent twists and turns, and no shortage of different perspectives-- but then that's always the case, isn't it? There are almost never just two sides. I think some timeless truths about online disputes can be drawn from it, though.  Such as:

  • It's hard to overestimate the ability of gamers to be arses, particularly of the misogynistic variety.  And I say this as a person who loves to play the video games herself, but the community does have its share of misogynerds.  (I just learned that term today, and this will probably be the only time I use it.  But it's fitting now, if ever)
  • Reasonable people may disagree, but they don't threaten violence.  That's an automatic and permanent revocation of one's credibility card.  
  • As a debate about the value of something said on the internet continues, the probability that someone will interpret objections as threats to freedom of speech approaches 100%.  
  • Real or effective online anonymity plus an audience doesn't turn everyone into total fuckwads, but it inevitably works like a charm for some.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Should we be surprised?

So Rock Beyond Belief has apparently been canceled.  All of that time and effort put into creating a secular concert and expecting the military to honor its agreement to support the show to the same extent that it supported a Billy Graham evangelical event before, and it's not going to happen.
"It's heartbreaking," said Sgt. Justin Griffith, who announced the cancellation in a Thursday letter to Col. Stephen Sicinski, the garrison commander at Bragg. "I'm personally invested in this, both in money and time. And now I feel like I've strung people along." 

As Ed Brayton (scheduled to emcee the concert) says, Griffith didn't string anyone along-- Fort Bragg leadership did.
Plans for the Rock Beyond Belief concert, which was planned to include famed British atheist Richard Dawkins as its keynote speaker, began last fall, after an event on the post called Rock the Fort. 
That event, sponsored in part by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was criticized by groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State as an attempt to evangelize not just soldiers, but civilians, who could also attend the show. 
Military leaders said at the time they would support similar events by non-Christian groups, a promise reiterated in a letter last month from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Bragg to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 
"Fort Bragg continues to be willing to provide the same level of support to comparable events proposed by non-federal entities," wrote Lt. Col. Nelson Van Eck Jr. 
Griffith and other organizers say that changed abruptly this week, when they were told that they couldn't have the large outdoor gathering with games and activities they had planned. Instead, they were told the event could take place at one of two indoor theaters, with the larger one accommodating about 700 people. 
In his letter to Sicinski, Griffith also says the base declined to cover any of the costs for Rock Beyond Belief, while it paid $54,500 toward the Christian event. 
Griffith also says he was told that any advertisements for the secular event would have to carry disclaimers that the concert wasn't endorsed by Bragg, while the Christian event was explicitly endorsed by the post. 
A military chaplain, for example, had sent out letters on Army stationary to area Christian pastors asking for their assistance in running the Christian concert. 
Because of the disclaimer, the financial support and the venue change, Griffith said, the concert he planned wasn't able to go forward, which has left him disappointed and frustrated. 
"This happened at the last minute," he said. "I just don't know how to pursue this further without litigation."
Ed comments:
And litigation is being prepared by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The fact is that this was a test from the start, a test of the military's promise that they would treat a non-Christian event the same as they treated the previous Christian one. And the military failed that test. 
We know from FOIA requests that the base paid tens of thousands of dollars in support for the Billy Graham event and they are now refusing to do the same for our event. I'm disappointed, of course, because I was really looking forward to hosting the show. But perhaps a lawsuit is what it will take to put a stop to the military's constant promotion of religion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Memo to Sarah Palin...

Umm, both your and Westboro's wacko pronouncements in the public square (such as, for example, this very tweet) invoke God's name on a regular basis.  They got sued for it; you didn't.  It appears their liberty to be religious in public is more in danger than yours is.

First Amendment and irony comprehension fail.  But you have to love someone who complains that they're not allowed to do something as they're doing it.

The fallacy being applied by this particular politician is..... *drumroll*..... equivocation, combined with a bit of false analogy.  First of all, simply invoking God's name in the public square hasn't gotten either the WBC or Sarah Palin in any kind of trouble.   In fact, doing so is pretty much a requirement for both churches and conservative politicians alike, hmm?  Oh, I'm sorry-- "church," in scare quotes, says the woman whose own church invited a witch hunter to come and bless her.  Second, for Sarah Palin the word "can't" means that somebody, somewhere, will have a negative opinion of her for doing something.  For Westboro, regardless of how you might view their beliefs and practices, it means they might be out $5 million.   A tiny bit of a difference, there?  Perhaps.

Gratuitous bird shot


My daytime companions, budgies Freddie (left) and Charlie (right).  Freddie is about a year and a half old, and Charlie is a little over three months.  Freddie is talkative, afraid of change, and rather manic. Charlie is brave to the point of foolhardiness, pushy, and fastidious.

SCOTUS rules in favor of Westboro on funeral protests

The Supreme Court ruling on Snyder v. Phelps was issued this morning-- 8-1 in favor of Phelps, saying that the First Amendment protected the WBC's right to protest the military funeral.  I couldn't have imagined it going any other way, but there was still a niggling worry that it might.  The opinion, authored by Roberts with Breyer concurring, notes that the protest was taking place on public land, roughly a thousand feet from the church (as instructed by police), and none of the protesters entered the cemetery.  None of them interfered in the funeral in any way, and the plaintiff was not even able to read what their signs read until that evening when he saw them on a news broadcast.  The lone dissenter to the opinion, Justice Alito, disagreed mainly on the grounds that the protest took place at a time and location geared to garner maximal attention.  Which...isn't that what protesters always do?

I'm very glad that this case went to the Supreme Court, and that this was the decision they delivered.  That doesn't mean I have a shred of sympathy for Westboro or their supposed cause, but I do think that delivering a $5 million dollar judgment against a group protesting on public grounds without any violence or even cursing would set a very, very bad precedent in terms of freedom of speech.  From the opinion:
Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a matter of public concern, that speech is entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment.  Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.  “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989).  Indeed, “the point of all speech protection . . .is to shield just those choices of content that in someone’s eyes are misguided, or even hurtful.”  Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 515 U. S. 557, 574 (1995).  
 The jury here was instructed that it could hold Westboro liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a finding that Westboro’s picketing was “outrageous.” “Outrageousness,” however, is a highly malleable standard with “an inherent subjectiveness about it  which  would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression.” Hustler, 485 U. S., at 55 (internal quotation marks omitted).  In a case such as this, a jury is “unlikely to be neutral with respect to the content of [the] speech,” posing “a real danger of becoming an instrument for the suppression of . . . ‘vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasan[t]’ ” expression.  Bose Corp., 466 U. S., at 510 (quoting New York Times, 376 U. S., at 270).  Such a risk is unacceptable; “in public debate [we] must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate ‘breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.” Boos v. Barry, 485 U. S. 312, 322 (1988) (some internal quotation marks omitted).   What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous. 
Their conclusion:
Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder’s funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro’s choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech. 
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.
ETA: Fred Phelps' estranged son Nate, an LGBT activist who lives in Canada, does not support the decision.  I find that disappointing but not surprising.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Interesting links of the day