I’m late to the ball game in commenting on this, but I wanted to offer a few words on the spat that took place last Friday between Ben Affleck, Bill Maher and Sam Harris on HBO’s “Real Time” on the liberal response to radical Islam.
Here’s the relevant clip if you haven’t seen it:
First, I must say that like Harris, I was little surprised, first, by Affleck’s attack on Harris right out of the gate, and second, on Affleck’s seemingly combative attitude when he and Harris had just met on the stage. Affleck, other than what some clueless publicist told him five minutes before he went on the show, knew little to anything about Harris’ body of work, and this was confirmed by Harris after the show when he actually had a backstage conversation with Affleck.
Maher and Harris seemed to be agreement that liberals should stand up for liberal principles like marriage equality, rights for women, free speech and freedom of religion (For the record, unlike Maher, I’m not terribly comfortable with the word “liberal” in identifying with a set of values I think should be self-evidently supported by anyone with a brain and a conscience; I prefer progressive.), but when Harris suggested that liberals have really dropped the ball on criticizing the Muslim world for by and large eschewing these principles, Affleck went off, calling Harris — and by extension, Maher — “gross” and “racist.”
I’ve always thought of Affleck as a sharp and thoughtful guy, but based on this he seems to me to represent the kind of weak-kneed, truly bleeding heart liberal of GOP folk lore who has little understanding of the real world and just wants everyone to play nice and not criticize anything or anyone lest we be called racists or bigots.
Outside of whatever cocooned world Affleck chooses to exist, religion in general is a danger to free and civil society, and Islam, in some of its darkest versions and even in some of its more moderate iterations, threatens to set humanity back to the dark ages. People like Affleck would like to believe that the large majority of Muslims in places like the Middle East and North Africa just want to live and let live and open up the gates to modernity, that Muslims by and large don’t want to encroach on civil society or stand in the way of freedom of religion, marriage equality and the proliferation of women’s rights. That naive and idealist view of the world simply doesn’t hold muster.
Harris only got to briefly mention the main poll that supports his claim, so I’ll do that here.
This report from Pew provides a detailed look at how Muslims in different parts of the world view Sharia law. Nicholas Kristof on the show attempted to cite Indonesia as one nation in the Muslim world that contained more moderate believers that did not agree with the more radical parts of Sharia law, which commands violence against disobedient women and punishment or death for people who leave Islam.
However, the Pew poll indicated that 72 percent of Muslims in Indonesia said they favored making Sharia law the law of the land. The numbers are even higher in places across the Muslim world including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria and others. Indeed, one has to leave what we consider to be the entire Muslim world of the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia altogether to find a nation in which less than 50 percent don’t want to live under the heel of Sharia law. Between 64-84 percent of Muslims in these four regions support Sharia law.
What about a woman’s right to divorce? Forty-four percent of Muslims in Southeast Asia recognize that right, while only 33 percent favor women’s right to divorce in the Middle East and North Africa. What about justice in this moderate Muslim world? In the Middle East and North Africa, 78 percent favor religious judges overseeing cases of family law, 57 percent support corporal punishment for criminals and 57 percent are OK with executing people for leaving the faith. If you are taking notes on just how moderate this world of 1.5 to 1.6 billion people really is, more than half of the nice folks in these two regions would vote to put someone to death simply for changing their minds. More astonishingly, all three of these figures are higher among Muslims in South Asia. Remember, the regions I just listed contain the lion’s share of Muslims in the entire world, at about 341 million in the Middle East and North Africa and 1 billion in South and Southeast Asia.
Harris’s contention, and I tend to agree with him, was that Affleck has some friends who are Muslims, and they support a peaceful and non-invasive approach to religion, so Affleck reckons that most Muslims everywhere must surely be in favor of modernity, free speech, equal rights and fair systems of justice. And for anyone to say otherwise is clearly an Islamophobic bigot. As Harris said more than once on the show, to criticize the religion, which is clearly anti-humanistic in nearly every category that matters, is not to criticize the individuals who practice it as people. But the larger point is that the Muslim world does not seem to contain enough reform-minded individuals, like Maajid Nawaz, who want to reform Islam and bring it into modernity.
Here’s Harris on Nawaz:
Nawaz admits that the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community is an enormous problem. Unlike Aslan, he insists that his fellow Muslims must find some way to reinterpret and reform the faith. He believes that Islam has the intellectual resources to do this. I certainly hope he’s right. One thing is clear, however: Muslims must be obliged to do the work of reinterpretation—and for this we need honest conversation.
And here is Nawaz on Affleck:
— Maajid Nawaz (@MaajidNawaz) October 5, 2014
This is going to be short — really short — lest I waste anymore time analyzing a movie that’s already taken two hours of my life. I knew that “Pacific Rim” was going to, at best, include 1 1/2 hours of over-the-top CGI action porn, with shallow actors and a contrived, nonsensical plot. I knew that going in. But we got was actually more than two hours of action, most of it either under water or in the ocean, a boilerplate hey-look-it’s-another-white-guy-hero surrounded by a cast of forgettable token characters — the kooky scientist, his even kookier partner and, of course, black male and Asian female supporting roles.
The film lacked any discernible heart, depth and scant reason to care whether or not the robots succeeded in saving whatever generic Pacific city they were trying to save. My interest in the film, with still about an hour to go, tanked when the main analog robot, named Gipsy Danger (Wait, how or why would a robot from the year 2020 still be analog?) and the alien were fighting each other and destroying the city in their wake, crashing through buildings and chasing each other through the streets, presumably causing a shocking loss of life all the while. A few minutes later after the alien was defeated, we see the Jaeger team back at the base cheering in celebration after the victory, with no consideration of the gigantic number of people who were just crushed under the hero robot’s heel, impaled as the combatants tromped through the city or who simply fell from skyscrapers to their grisly deaths. Are we to believe that all 2 million people managed to find one of the Kaiju refuge stations in a matter of minutes? Hardly.
In any case, the action and effects were spectacular, but I judge all movies on the same criteria — acting, depth, emotion, character development, etc. — no matter the genre, and no amount of “CGI motherfucker, CGI!” can save a movie with a bland plot and lifeless characters.
I’ve only heard the first track so far, but Thom Yorke continues to push the envelope, not only within the rock music genre, but in the music distribution market. Torrents as a means to share content has been a thing for years and years, but so far as I know, York’s new album and the aptly named, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is the first album by a major artist to be released on Bittorrent as a method of distribution.
Here is Yorke’s justification for releasing the album on BitTorrent:
It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around. If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves. Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers. If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done.
In other words, it could provide a cheaper means for the consumer to get new music and for artists, it could serve as a workaround and alternative to distributing through a record company, which has its obvious drawbacks and limitations.
In this now notorious press conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went on and on about the NFL’s lack of clear and consistent policies related to discipline and personal conduct that apparently haven’t been updated since 2007.
Seems like Goodell has had been plenty of time since then to revisit and modify any policies he deemed insufficient. Why were such important policies not being reviewed every year? The NFL certainly takes pains to review every nuance about the rules on the football field each season. Not even taking into account the Ray Rice debacle, seems like this oversight alone would be grounds for termination. Further, how does a league with an entire legal department at its disposal not know that you don’t conduct interviews with the victim and abuser in the same room?
There’s just so many elements in this case that don’t add up, and I think that, in part, fueled Bill Simmons’ also notorious tirade against Goodell. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that either Goodell, NFL executives, the Ravens or all three, have not been completely forthcoming with what they knew and when they knew it. Simmons, with perhaps a little too much impropriety in calling out the corporate suits at ESPN, just had the balls to say what everyone was already thinking.
And frankly, with the exception of Simmons — and it will be interesting to see what he has to say, if anything, once he returns from suspension — I can’t say that I trust the credibility of other ESPN employees commenting on the NFL because of the sports channel’s cozy partnership with the league on “Monday Night Football.”
I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen
As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.
I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.
As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.
As Dwight Allen put it:
King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.
A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.
I wouldn’t care whatsoever if FOX News just came out and said to their audience that they were a biased news organization with a clear agenda of castigating President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and all progressives at every opportunity. At least that would be honest. At least MSNBC uses the mantra “lean forward” to suggest that the network is basically a progressive mouthpiece.
But it’s FOX News’ constant and blatant deception and sophistry, even after being exposed, that I think puts FOX beyond the pale of anything that might resemble journalism. I have actually heard FOX News officials claim that the channel draws a clear line between commentary like Bill O’Reilly and supposed “straight-laced” anchors like Shepard Smith, but this demarcation line, and as far as I can tell, has never existed.
Here is an example of one of these “straight-laced” news segments omitting a portion of Obama’s speech to imply that Obama was “blaming the troops” for the ISIS threat, and here’s another in which another supposed “straight-laced” correspondent, Ed Henry, who is FOX’s chief White House reporter, no less, fabricated a story suggesting that Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey changed his position on ISIS.
Nonetheless, Robert Ailes from an interview in 2006 addressed criticism of FOX News when he was asked, “If you reject the conservative label, is there another way you would define yourself?:”
I think conservatives were underserved, that does not make us a conservative channel. I think a lot of conservatives watch our channel, that does not make us a conservative channel. If we’re conservative, what does that make the other channels? Liberal. Reporters are very interesting, they keep coming at me and saying aren’t you more conservative, and I say yes well, you mean they’re more liberal? The answer is you see both on our channel. In the last 25 years you CNN had Bob Novack and they thought that was balanced. One half hour they had Bob and the rest of the time they had liberals. We decided to balance all the arguments and treat the conservative view with the same respect as we have for the liberal view, and that is really irritating some people.
We’re not promoting the conservative point of view, we’re merely giving them equal time and access. Why would that offend journalists, to have another point of view? We don’t quite get that. Dragged kicking and screaming the rest of the media is now saying oh my god maybe we should be a little more balanced than the way we were doing things.
He is essentially arguing, without presenting any evidence and just on pure conjecture, of course, that before FOX came along, the national media was just a hive of liberalism, and journalists were not telling the other side of the story. First, it’s not the job of journalists to tell the other side of the story. It’s the journalist’s job to report what is happening, and more times than not, news stories do not have just two sides. They could have three or four or five sides. The suggestion that the goal of journalism is to represent all sides equally is to fail to understand journalism itself, which is, in turn, a particularly unfortunate failure for someone who claims to run a news channel.
And further, if it was true that the nation somehow had a shortage of conservative viewpoints in this period, wouldn’t we have seen nothing but Democrats in the White House and in Congress before FOX opened shop in 1996? I seem to recall some folks named Reagan, Bush Sr., Ford and Nixon. Also, in 1996 when Fox News took to the air, the Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress.
However much top FOX News officials, reporters and anchors have failed at journalism, they have proven themselves to be professionals at clinical self-delusion.
Here’s more Christians claiming that bad things in the world are the result of sin and God’s wrath:
As the deadly Ebola virus continues to spread in Liberia, religious leaders there are claiming that “immoral acts” are responsible for the catastrophic outbreak. Christian leaders meeting at the Liberian Council of Churches unanimously agreed: “God is angry with Liberia.” The statement released by the council declared, “Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.” Their recommended solution to the disease ravaging the nation is that everyone should stay indoors for a three-day period of fasting and prayer. …
Perish the thought that their all-loving, all-powerful god actually take responsibility for the misery and suffering that his voyeuristic eyes have — if he is real — gazed on with indifference for thousands of years. Perish the thought that this all-loving, all-powerful god — if he is real — use his innate foresight before sending the whole ugly train of humanity down the slope toward perdition. Perish the thought that man be allowed to live freely in peace and solidarity without unwillingly being hurled into a cosmic game of souls with no dog in the hunt.
But no, they tell us. Let’s blame the sick people for being born in a region without the luxuries of the West. Let’s blame famine stricken children in Africa, and then let’s deny their parents birth control so that generations more can feel the ache of hunger and disease, and they too may die in unmarked graves. Let’s blame homosexuals for acting on their genetic impulses. Let’s blame everyone else for simply being born. And then let’s heap all of that blame on an innocent carpenter from Nazareth. And Christians claim the moral high ground? On what authority? Because it’s sure not Yahweh or the Bible.
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:
Integrity in national journalism is officially dead:
Time Inc. has fallen on hard times. Would you believe that this once-proud magazine publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers?
Last year—in the opposite of a vote of confidence—Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine’s editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company’s magazines. … — “Time Inc. Rates Writers on How “Beneficial” They Are to Advertisers,” Gawker.com
And then there’s this, in which a Sports Illustrated article about Drew Brees was basically one long advertisement for a TRX training system. The article failed to mention that Brees is an investor in the company that makes the equipment, according to Forbes.
Here’s SI’s half-hearted reply:
This was a story about how an elite QB entering his 14th season stays at the top of his game, while affording readers access to those same training methods. It was not a story about TRX, though we should have disclosed the relationship. It was unintentional, but it should have been acknowledged.
How does a magazine on the level of Sports Illustrated, which is part of Time, fail to make such an acknowledgment unless, of course, that wouldn’t have been beneficial for advertisers.
A common misconception floating about among Christians is that scientists, freethinkers and others “believe” in evolution the same way they believe in God or divine providence, and sometimes we slip into the misleading language in this way to describe our perception that evolution is a real process. Of course, this misunderstanding is essentially based on skewed semantics, as the word, “believe,” can be used to mean both something that a person takes on faith and a disputed piece of information that a person chooses to accept against the alternatives. But as Keith Blanchard said here, evolution is not disputed:
Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that’s how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they’ve been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.
Thus, instead of saying we believe or even accept evolution, perhaps we should speak about it with as much certainty of fact as we do gravity and the planet’s rotation around the sun, for when believers decry evolution, they make themselves look as ridiculous as if they had suddenly claimed the world is flat. While I agree with Blanchard that a person can, and many do, recognize evolution as fact and simply reconcile it with their faith — notice how the reach of faith always, always recedes behind science — they must do so at the expense of the Bible’s validity. Liberal Christians, such as Francis Collins, reconcile evolution and the Bible by claiming that God was behind the whole plan of creation and guided evolution to ultimately culminate in human beings. Basically, since Genesis does not provide an exact time frame for the process of creation, a “day” in the Bible could be virtually any amount of time.
But there are at least two problems with this theory. OK, three. First, although the Bible attempts to provide years and time periods for “historical” people and events, no attempt, as I’ve said, is made to do this in the creation story. One would think that an important event like the creation of man would have warranted a basic timeline so the Bible’s later readers could know about when the species began. Certainly, providing this information in detail would not have been out of the purview of an all-knowing god.
Second, as the image above points out, evolution is riddled with “errors” in design (Here’s just a few). Presumably a god who was in control of the process would have been able and willing to streamline the process and “guide” evolution more efficiently without the flaws, which leads to the next point. More than 98 percent of all species that ever existed, including early humans, are now extinct. An all-loving God would have had to watch eons and eons of misery and death before our little blip of time came around. Sure, some Christians will argue that millions of years for God is nothing, but while God might be able to fluidly transport himself through space and time, he still orchestrated a plan that includes 98 percent more death and destruction than life. So although some Christians do regard the accepted science of evolution as true, they still have logical mountains to climb if they are to reconcile evolution with the notion of all-loving, all-powerful god.