Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category
In which John Oliver skewers the Ferguson (Mo.) Police Department, and other local law enforcement offices in the nation for parading around their smallish communities with military-grade equipment, gear and bravado like they are in a fucking war zone:
Here’s Coyne quoting Myers:
Here’s how you don’t respond to Williams death: as P.Z Myers has in a post at Pharyngula, in which he claims that the media (and our government) has taken advantage of Williams’s death to draw attention away from racism and other social problems. In other words, we’ve been manipulated:
I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.
. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]
And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.
Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.
Well said. But I wonder if Coyne was caught off guard by Myers’ “arrogance” and “condescension,” which isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Surely Coyne isn’t just now discovering that Myers’ comments often reek of arrogance and condescension. And atheists wonder why believers sometimes brand nonbelievers as close-minded pricks. Its because of assholes such as this.
Postscript: After sleeping on it and talking in the comments section, I had a few more thoughts on this. I think the point Myers was trying to make about the media milking Williams’ death was probably a legit gripe, but it was far overshadowed by the statement about “wealthy white men” and “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction,” which were particularly abhorrent. The man hung himself after a lengthy battle with depression and addiction and still managed to be one of the most beloved figures of our time; whatever the media and politicians hope to gain from his death is beside the point.
Here is an honest talk with Robin Williams from April 26, 2010, with comedian Marc Maron. He talks honestly about depression, addiction, mortality and of course, comedy. He even contemplates the notion of suicide at about the 56:00 mark. It may change how you think about Williams.
Charles C. Haynes in his most recent “Inside the First Amendment” column addresses the court case of American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in which nonbelievers have attempted to keep the notorious cross-shaped beam from being exclusively displayed at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York.
Although some Christians have found comfort and even symbolism in the existence of the “cross” among the wreckage at Ground Zero — despite the inconvenient fact that practically all construction beams can be construed to look like crosses — some atheists have contended that the cross at the historic site violates the Constitution. But as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the recent case,
The Establishment Clause is not properly construed to command that government accounts of history be devoid of religious references.
The American Atheists group essentially agreed that the cross was important for historic reasons, but argued that if the cross was going to remain at the site, a display should be added acknowledging that nonbelievers were also victims in the tragedy. Here’s the important part in Haynes’ column:
In rejecting the atheists’ challenge to the display and demand for equal time, the appeals court panel took the opportunity to give a primer on the meaning of government “neutrality” under the First Amendment.
Yes, the Establishment Clause requires that government remain neutral among religions — and between religion and non-religion. But for constitutional purposes, neutrality doesn’t mean ignoring religion or, in this case, leaving religion out of the story.
Government-funded museums may not, of course, erect displays intended to promote or denigrate religion. Inclusion of religious artifacts (or objects viewed as having religious meaning) must have a secular or educational purpose.
The many religious paintings, altarpieces and other religious objects in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for example, have profound religious content and may have been used at one time for devotional purposes. But they are now part of a secular museum, displayed to convey the history of art. Remove religious images and objects from the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the place would be nearly empty.
Similarly, exhibits at the 9/11 National Museum have an obvious secular purpose: They document the history of the terrorist attacks and the rescue efforts that followed. The Cross at Ground Zero is a significant part of that story. Leaving this object out would not only be incomplete history; it would signal hostility to religion that could itself be viewed as a violation of the First Amendment.
The cross-shaped artifact is in the “finding meaning” section of the museum, included among some 1,000 objects associated with ways — religious and nonreligious — in which people sought to make sense of the attacks.
One can easily see how adding an atheistic display at Ground Zero alongside the cross or other religious or nonreligious items to cater to any and all groups who may or may not be offended by the exclusion of such could become ridiculous, which is why the Establishment Clause stipulates that the government doesn’t have to provide balance necessarily, just that religious symbols on public property have to have some type of underlying secular purpose or historical significance, like providing comfort to grieving families in a time of national tragedy. Of course, one can also easily see the irony in a symbol of one religion bringing spiritual comfort to one set of people that have suffered immense personal turmoil directly as a result of adherents to another religion. The story never changes: one religion cheers, the other mourns, vice versa ad infinitum and religion still poisons everything.
Zionism “the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land. …
“Israel doesn’t ‘give up’ anything by abandoning religious expansionism in the West Bank and Gaza. It does itself a favor, because it confronts the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews, and because it abandons a scheme which is doomed to fail in the worst possible way. The so-called ‘security’ question operates in reverse, because as I may have said already, only a moral and political idiot would place Jews in a settlement in Gaza in the wild belief that this would make them more safe.
“Of course this hard-headed and self-interested solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists. But one isn’t seeking to placate them. One is seeking to destroy and discredit them. At the present moment, they operate among an occupied and dispossessed and humiliated people, who are forced by Sharon‘s logic to live in a close yet ghettoised relationship to the Jewish centers of population. Try and design a more lethal and rotten solution than that, and see what you come up with.”
— Christopher Hitchens, Frontline interview, May 2007
For all the intense criticism that has been hurled against neuroscientist Sam Harris for his recent essay, “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?,” I think a lot of his naysayers, including Andrew Sullivan, P.Z. Myers, A Million Gods blog and others, missed the larger point.
First, Sullivan seems to take issue with the fact that although the title announces the fact that Harris doesn’t criticize Israel, he then proceeds to criticize Israel numerous times, not the least of which is a statement against Israel’s right to be in the first place. In the text of the essay, however, Harris admits that his position on Israel is “somewhat paradoxical:”
For those of you who worry that I never say anything critical about Israel: My position on Israel is somewhat paradoxical. There are questions about which I’m genuinely undecided. And there’s something in my position, I think, to offend everyone. So, acknowledging how reckless it is to say anything on this topic, I’m nevertheless going to think out loud about it for a few minutes.
I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’t celebrate the idea that there’s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible. [Note: Read this paragraph again.]
Now to the main part of the essay. Essentially Harris’ point is that Israel, as a democracy in the Middle East surrounded by enemies that have threatened to wipe it off the map for decades now — and for centuries before that — Israel should not be blamed for defending itself, and although thousands of deaths have resulted from the conflict on the Palestinian side, which has been wholly “disproportionate” in Israel, the latter nation has a vested interest in preserving civilians because of the residual and humanitarian backlash that has occurred for years and has flared up again in recent weeks. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think Israel has played too strong a hand in responding to the threat from Gaza, and likewise, Hamas’ strategy of using humans as shields is reprehensible to the highest degree. In short, so-called “leaders” on both sides have failed their own people and failed miserably in refusing to broker longterm peace. Neither side has any winners for sure, but innocent people of Gaza, serving only as pawns for Hamas, have suffered the most.
Here is one of Harris’ main points:
But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.[Note: I was not saying that the horror of slain children is a moral illusion; nor was I minimizing the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation. I was claiming that Israel is not primarily to blame for all this suffering.]
And this, I think, is where critics have departed from Harris’ actual meaning and inferred their own. Myers, in his usual explosive tone, had this to say in retort:
The “Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation”. Stop right there. What do you mean, we critics are “stuck”? Isn’t that a terrible, awful fact of Middle East history that is being blithely glossed over? Of course it is. Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation, and for someone who wants to claim we have to look at the big picture to see the causes of the conflict, he doesn’t seem to see how that could have led to the hatred expressed by Hamas. Again, not to excuse it…but if you want to address it, you can’t simply call the Palestinians evil bad guys and offer no solutions other than shooting them. Both sides have deep antecedents and a thousand justifications.
Harris didn’t call everyday Palestinians evil or say their mass slaughter was acceptable. Indeed, and perhaps regrettably, Harris barely mentioned the plight of actual on-the-ground civilians who are the real victims in all of this, and regrettably again, he didn’t seem to make it clear that by “Palestinians,” in almost every instance, he meant members of Hamas, not innocent residents of Gaza.
One would think that astute readers such as Sullivan and Myers would have understood the nuance in context of Harris’ larger claim, which was that religious fanaticism such as practiced and preached by leaders of Hamas is really to blame for the suffering in Gaza. In the Middle East, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is ground zero in the whole saga, as fanatics have spent thousands of years tearing each other apart with their thinly veiled claims over territory in the so-called holy land. Compared with the likes of Hamas, Israel is a virtual Mecca of secular thought with a reported 42 percent defining themselves as more worldly Jews.
The larger point, then, is that Hamas’ endgame, if it could have its way, is ultimate submission under Allah for Israel and everyone else for that matter. Perhaps Harris didn’t make a larger enough deal about Israel’s settlements in Gaza, which Hamas views as an invasion of their territory, and he’s probably mistaken to think that the settlements are solely for security, but his basic thesis was not so much a whole cloth defense of Israel — he said clearly that civilian deaths in Gaza amounted to a “monstrous evil” and freely admitted that Israel has probably committed war crimes — but a castigation of religion and its grip on the region:
What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.
This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.
Sullivan seems to have completely misunderstood this last part, adamantly disagreeing and detailing all the reasons why we are not, in fact, living in Israel. As I understand it, Harris’ point here is that if radical religion such that is festering in parts of the Middle East is allowed to hop the river and infect us to any large degree in the United States, we will then take on the role of Israel, in beating back the fanatics at our own doorstep. In the same way, radicalism threatens to destroy any society in the world that values human peace and solidarity.
I see a lot of opposition on my Facebook page to genetically modified foods. Opponents to this mean well, but as Neil deGrasse Tyson points out below, humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals and manipulating the gene pool for thousands of years:
That it has taken until the year 2014 to get where we are on marriage equality, with most Southern states still woefully behind the curve, is a said testimony for a nation that touts equality as its highest calling. As Haynes, with Newseum reports, the “tide” of public sentiment “has turned,” and the arc of history is now bending toward equality under the law.
Following is his column for June 26:
Poll: Marriage equality trumps religious objections
By Charles C. Haynes
A solid majority of Americans now support equal treatment for same-sex couples despite religious objections, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released this week by the First Amendment Center.
Sixty-one percent of respondents agree that the government should require religiously affiliated groups that receive government funding to provide health care benefits to same-sex partners of employees — even when the religious group opposes same-sex marriage.
And 54% of the public agree that a business providing wedding services to the public should be required to serve same-sex couples, even if the business owner objects to gay marriage on religious grounds.
These findings are consistent with the dramatic rise in public support for gay marriage — 59% in a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey (75% among those under 30).
What’s somewhat surprising, however, is the strength of that support in the face of religious objections. When the first legal same-sex marriage was performed in Massachusetts ten years ago, conservative religious groups were able to mobilize voters to approve laws and constitutional amendments in many states — including deep blue California — banning gay marriage.
Now the tide has turned — not only in the courts (bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and Utah were struck down just this week), but also in the court of public opinion.
While gay marriage remains unpopular in some red states, many conservative politicians and religious leaders have toned down the rhetoric as the public continues to migrate toward support for marriage equality.
Early in the debate, religious objectors to same-sex marriage appeared to enjoy broad public support for their efforts to secure religious exceptions to laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. That may no longer be the case.
A defining moment came earlier this year in Arizona when the conservative governor vetoed a bill that would have made it possible for religious business owners to seek an exemption from providing wedding services to same-sex couples.
Lost in the Arizona debate were the nuances of the proposed law: It would only have allowed businesses to make a claim for religious accommodation — but with no guarantee of the outcome.
In the mind of the public, however, the Arizona legislature was attempting to legalize discrimination against gay couples in the name of religious freedom. Rather than be labeled the “no gays allowed” state, the Chamber of Commerce and many Republican leaders joined LGBT rights groups in the successful campaign to persuade the governor to veto the bill.
As the Arizona outcome suggests, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is fast becoming politically and socially unacceptable. For a growing number of Americans, the movement for marriage equality is all about equal treatment under the law.
Of course, religious groups have a constitutional right to oppose gay marriage and to refuse to perform same-sex weddings. And as long as we uphold the First Amendment, that will continue to be the case.
But when religiously affiliated groups receive tax dollars to deliver social services or when wedding providers open their doors to serve the public, most Americans now believe gay couples should be treated just like everyone else.
In the battle over equal treatment for same-sex couples, it’s all over but the shouting.
Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001.
I understand where this student is coming from, but it seems to me that at some point, the PC stuff just becomes pedantic:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., remained defiant in the face of another court order this week that he will probably just ignore. As The New York Times reported it, judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court “strongly rebuked” Arpaio for not following the court’s previous order and for mocking the judge:
Ten months ago, Judge Snow ruled that Mr. Arpaio and his deputies had systematically profiled Latinos, targeting them for arrest during raids at day-laborer gathering spots and detaining them longer than other drivers during traffic stops. The subsequent order from the judge, who found that the sheriff’s office had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos, came with several requirements, including the appointment of a monitor to field complaints and oversee compliance.
But at the hearing on Monday, Judge Snow said that Mr. Arpaio and the chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, had blatantly flouted his order, pointing as evidence to a video of a briefing that the two men held in October for a group of rank-and-file deputies who participated in a crime-suppression operation in southwest Phoenix. In the video, Mr. Sheridan called Judge Snow’s order “ludicrous” and “absurd,” and compared the restrictions the courts had placed on them to those imposed on the beleaguered New Orleans Police Department, whose officers, he said, “were murdering people.”
“That tells you how ludicrous this crap is,” Mr. Sheridan of the judge’s order, as a videocamera recorded his every word.
Mr. Arpaio spoke next, telling the deputies, “What the chief deputy said is what I’ve been saying,” adding, “We don’t racially profile, I don’t care what everybody says.”
Arpaio said nothing during the hearing, but told the press, “We’ll be appealing this case anyway. Stay tuned.” Rather than hitting Arpaio with a penalty at this hearing, Snow told the sheriff that if his department committed more violations, he would impose restrictions like forcing Arpaio to hire more monitors to ensure compliance. Snow already ordered that one monitor be brought in to serve as a check against discrimination.
To underscore his points, Judge Snow asked that the lawyers on both sides of the case prepare a summary of his order and that Mr. Arpaio and his deputies use it as a training tool, ideally to make sure none of it was misinterpreted. He also asked both sides to sign a letter attesting to the intentions of the order, which Mr. Arpaio’s lawyers said they would have to discuss before accepting.
So in essence, Arpaio is going to more or less continue his hack campaign against Hispanics in his own county, while his lawyers talk about whether to accept Snow’s order. How broken is our legal system when attorneys get to converse over an order before accepting it? What happened to a judge making a ruling as the final authority and forcing compliance, or else be held in contempt? After learning that Arpaio and his deputies remain defiant and probably have no intention of carrying out his order, why was Snow so lenient? Why did Snow just “strongly rebuke” the sheriff and not hold him in contempt? Arpaio needs to be taught the lesson that no one is above the law.
Andrew Cohen, with The Atlantic, made as strong a case as any for Arpaio to be held in content and fined until he complies:
If you or I behaved like this, if we violated a court order so defiantly after a case about willful disobedience of the Constitution, we would be held in contempt. And that’s what should have happened to Arpaio Monday. None of this patient deference to officials of another branch of government. None of this separation-of-powers politesse. The sheriff should have been held in contempt, and fined, until he was willing to publicly apologize (to the judge, at least) and also to convince Judge Snow that he understands at last that the Constitution belongs not to him but to all of the people he serves.
It’s not that he doesn’t get it. It’s that he gets it and still doesn’t care. The more the feds press him, the more the constitutional violations pile up, the more he’s able to lament to his supporters that he is the real victim here. This lawsuit, this court order, surely will be a talking point when Arpaio finally runs for governor. The real victims, of course, are the citizens of color in Maricopa County who still suffer under his yoke. To them, the contents of that ugly videotape aren’t a revelation. They’ve been living with that attitude for years. And if Arpaio wins his next race perhaps all of the citizens of Arizona will get to experience it, too.