Dog Bites Man

April 8, 2012

This was a typical headline today:

The real story is that people are still falling for this

Why is that news? They don’t start every day with the headline:

Earth Still Spinning on its Axis

Some things just aren’t news.

Fundies of Color

March 28, 2012

This book comes right after Genesis

What both white and non-white fundies read to their children

Wikipedia defines “fundie” as:

Fundie or fundy (plural fundies) is a pejorative slang term used to refer to religious fundamentalists of any religion or denomination, although it is primarily directed towards fundamentalist Christians. The term is intentionally derogatory, and is used most commonly by those opposed to the Christian Right movement.

This is a fairly accurate definition, and it serves my purposes quite well. But what term should you use if you don’t want the built-in negative slant? In other words, what should a journalist call these people?

Most of the time, I see them referred to as “evangelicals”. That’s roughly correct, but not completely. Not every evangelical exhibits all of the traits of fundamentalism. There are also some non-Christians who align themselves with Christian fundamentalists. Ben Stein’s promotion of Expelled and other anti-science lies puts him in this category.

I came across an article on the The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education website that addresses this matter. The Maynard Institute says its mission is:

to promote diversity in the news media through improved coverage, hiring and business practices.

The article is “Media Coverage of Evangelical Christians Ignores Blacks and Latinos” by Nadra Kareem Nittle. The article’s thesis is that the media’s use of the term “evangelical” to describe old white guys such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson does not accurately portray evangelicals.

Since I’m not an evangelical and I almost never use the term as a stand-in for “fundie”, I have no stake in that particular dispute. However, I did find the article quite revealing in another way. I’ve known for a long time that black and latino evangelicals exist. It always struck me as odd that they would be aligned philosophically with people who espoused beliefs and advocated policies that were detrimental to minorities. I suppose it’s a manifestation of the No True Scotsman fallacy. The white evangelicals aren’t “true evangelicals”, so white evangelical belief isn’t the same as non-white evangelical belief.

I’ll return to the Maynard Institute article in a minute. First, I want to detour to an article by Austin Cline at About. It’s a review of a book about the Bible Belt, which looks worth reading. Here’s how Austin summarizes the history of Southern Evangelism:

What few people realize is that Southern culture changed — or perhaps corrupted? — evangelical Christianity. Southern Evangelism started out as a fringe movement, challenging the dominant Anglican institutions and practices.

The messages spread by these young, itinerant preachers threatened the authority of Southern planters and businessmen.

To be successful, preachers had to make themselves more appealing to those who were already in power in the South: the middle-aged white gentry.

Evangelicalism had to move quite a ways from its earlier promise of equality and liberation because churches which once [promised] equality and liberation ended up in the nineteenth century “upholding the equality and honor of all white men.” This is the Southern “family values religion” which still exists today, though it has spread out of the South and can be found around the nation: a religious movement that began on the dream of liberty and ended in a nightmare of authoritarian oppression.

So now let’s look at the Maynard Institute article and see if there really are non-authoritarian evangelicals:

News reports often leave the impression that all evangelical Christians are white and usually support the most conservative Republican candidates. Totally overlooked is the fact that many African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color are evangelical Christians whose views are rarely cited.

People of color, a growing segment of the evangelical community, and their positions on issues are rarely seen or heard in the media. Religion scholars and experts say it’s critical that the media quickly adjust coverage to include all evangelical Christians or risk giving an unfair advantage to candidates supported by the largely conservative, white evangelicals.

We know that there are a lot of non-fundie churches in this country, but their numbers are dwindling, whereas evangelical ranks are growing.

So if there really are moderate or liberal evangelicals, why do they tend to vote as a monolithic block? Or do they? The Maynard Institute article implies they don’t, but the post-election breakdowns I see in the media tend to show them mostly voting Republican. Or maybe that is another example of what that article is railing against: an overly-simplified definition of evangelical? If that’s the case, where do I find real data that shows black and latino evangelicals voting Democratic?

I also wonder if the fundie’s hijacking of media attention has damaged religion in this country. There may be a lot (too many!) of fundies in this country, but they’re still a minority. Wouldn’t it be funny if they’re driving down their own numbers?

If every religious spokesman on TV is a hate-filled extremist, then wouldn’t most middle-of-the-road religion-ambivalent Americans (which probably describes almost half the population) become soured on religion? Maybe that’s one reason so many Americans profess a weak belief in God but don’t bother to go to church.

Lisa Sharon Harper, author of the book “Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat” and co-author of “Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics,” says the term “evangelical” has a meaning different than what is portrayed in the mainstream media.

“The media would do well not to call [the religious right] evangelicals,” says Harper, also director of mobilizing for Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization in Washington. “They’re really thinking about a political bloc. They’re not thinking about theological evangelicals.”

Harper notes that political evangelicals tend to be white, live in suburban or rural areas and have a history of supporting a conservative agenda over the past 30 years. In contrast, she says theological evangelicals have existed for hundreds of years and have challenged the status quo.

At first, I thought Harper was saying that it’s only the sanitized-for-Southerners version of evangelicalism that gets into politics. But then she says this:

“What you’re finding among theological evangelicals is there’s such a broader spectrum of issues that they care about,” she says. “It won’t just be abortion or same-sex marriage. It will also be the prison industrial complex and how that impacts the black community and the Latino community. It will be the issue of immigration.”
[emphasis added]

AHHHH!!! Revelation (so to speak)! What we have here isn’t two opposite flavors of evangelicalism, original liberal and corrupted conservative. The son killed the father! Extra-crispy Southern evangelicalism killed original-recipe evangelicalism and replaced it with some sort of cheap imitation.

Theological evangelicalism promotes racial equality, but it’s still anti-woman and anti-gay.

The article goes on to interview Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:

Views of the religious right… concern Sider because he doesn’t believe that their agenda is biblical enough.

Or Scotish enough!

A biblical political agenda would also include economic justice and environmentalism, known in Christian circles as “creation care,” he says.

Inequality of the justice system. Immigration. Economic justice. Environmentalism. All of these fall under the banner of theological evangelicalism. But there’s no room at the inn for the women and gays.

To be fair, the article does interview Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church, who says:

some evangelicals do fight for health coverage for contraception because it may help women treat medical conditions such as endometriosis.

So at least one of these guys has at least a little bit of compassion for women, but note that it’s only for medical conditions. A woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body is not included.

So what have we learned, Dorothy?

We already knew that fundies aren’t very “Christ-like”. We also already knew that all Christians riffle through the Bible and pick out the parts they like and want to follow, while ignoring all that other stuff that tells them the exact opposite.

These articles tell us that the white guys choose full-flavor fundamentalism, which is full of hate and intolerance for everybody who isn’t like them. The fundies of color choose hate-lite, which has all the flavor of fundamentalism with a bit less hate.

In other words, both groups choose a religion that justifies their bigotry and allows them to oppress those who are politically and socially weaker than themselves.

Unlike Kodak, I’m Not Dead Yet

March 23, 2012

All those wires!
(YouTube page here)

I know it looks like the blog has been abandoned, but it hasn’t! Things have been quiet on the site from a lack of time and motivation. When I had articles I wanted to write (and there have been many), I didn’t have the time. When I had free evenings (but there haven’t been many), I didn’t have the motivation.

In years past, I never suffered the motivation problem. The reason for this change is that I feel defeated.

They’ve won.

Not yet and not completely, but it looks inevitable. The fundie/Republican merger has been such an effective pairing that it has created an unstoppable force. It’s an amazing synergy of complementary goals. The fundies are anti-intellectual, and the Republicans are anti-education. The fundies want society to regress socially to the Dark Ages, and the Republicans want society to regress economically to feudalism.

I have been exploring variations of this blog’s traditional approach to our subject matter to keep my interest going. You might have noticed a broadening of topics I’ve covered lately (e.g. straight politics, more off-topic posts). I expect to keep the blog going. I need it. It’s how I blow off steam. It keeps me off of the tower.

There’s hope for me, but not America. I am film; I am here to stay. America is Kodak; it’s shutting its doors due to self-inflicted wounds.

How Do Conservatives and Liberals See the World?

February 6, 2012

I don't have much use for either of them

Yes, yes. Godwin. I know!

I just watched the latest episode of Moyers & Company with Bill Moyers. He interviewed social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt has a forthcoming book titled The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. It was a fascinating program. I recommend it, if you haven’t watched it already.

This part of Moyers’ intro sort of sums up Haidt’s premise:

His ideas are controversial but they make you think. Haidt says, for example, that liberals misunderstand conservatives more than the other way around, and that while conservatives see self-sufficiency as a profound moral value for individuals, liberals are more focused on a public code of care and equity.

The thing about any of the social sciences is that they’re tricky to study. You can stick water in a beaker on a hot plate to measure its boiling point, but how do you measure a society’s boiling point? The social sciences are littered with the corpses of theories, plausible and crazy alike, that attempted to explain why we behave (individually or collectively) the way we do.

This Haidt guy has some interesting ideas. Is there any truth to them? I don’t know. I like things that can be measured objectively, and this isn’t it. I know I’m more partial to the ideas of George Lakoff, but I don’t know that he’s right either.

Haidt’s ideas are based on his Moral Foundations Theory. He describes it on its website:

In brief, the theory proposes that six (or more) innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. [emphasis added]

These six foundations are:

  1. Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
  3. Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.
  4. Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
  5. Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
  6. Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

When they asked liberals and conservatives how strongly they felt about those issues, this is how it came out:

Chart from the show

I guess my biggest concern is how neutrally the questions were worded. It’s extremely difficult to write bias-free questions. Even his choice of labels raises some questions. In the list above, the first word of each pair is clearly the “better” or more desirable trait. But when I see the word “authority”, for example, I have an immediate negative reaction.

I’ve always disrespected authority. And what is “legitimate authority” anyway? There is very little in this country. The politicians have authority by virtue of occupying the roles defined in the Constitution, but it is not legitimate in my view. They have not earned that authority. They bought it with massive campaign contributions from Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, and a few other unelected billionaires.

Or maybe he is referring to actual legitimate authority, which would result from free and fair elections. I’m all in favor of that, but we don’t have too many of those.

I score low on one perception of the definition, but high on the other. Since I don’t know how free of bias (conscious or unconscious) his questions were worded, I don’t know how much stock to put in his results.

It sure is peculiar that the liberals are so extremely lopsided and the conservatives are so evenly distributed.

Despite my doubts, he nevertheless has some interesting things to say in the interview. It’s worth trying to listen with an open mind and learn what we can from it.

Oh, and notice at the end of the interview that he shares my opinion that the system is extremely broken. He is of the mistaken opinion that it is fixable, though.


Update: 2/17/12

Rightardia posted about this at his own blog and added some more thoughts. He explains why Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is a better model for explaining the differences between liberals and conservatives. I think Kohlberg is dead-on when explaining fundies, but I’m not yet convinced it applies to all conservatives and all liberals. You should give it a read.

Lunch with Lucifer

February 5, 2012

The devil is a terrible chef


I love it when this happens. I bought lunch at this crappy “Hawaiian Grill” today, and, as you can see by the receipt above, the total was $6.66!

I remember eating there once before, and the food was pretty bad. Somehow that memory had faded enough that I forgot. Now I know why it’s bad. It’s devil food! (No, wait. Devil’s food is good! It’s angel’s food that’s bad. No, wait. Angel’s food is good too. I’m confused! They can’t both be good, can they? One thing I do know: This Hawaiian BBQ is bad!)

Back in this blog’s heyday, I wrote an amusing article about restaurant bills that come out to $6.66.

It’s getting harder and harder to pay $6.66 for food anymore. Prices have just gone up too much. Inflation is driving Satan into bankruptcy!

Another weird thing that I haven’t figured out is Subway. I end up eating there about once a week, because there’s one near work. Depending on which sandwich and drink I get, I sometimes see them ring it up on the register as $6.66. That total shows up on the display for about half a second, and then it drops to $6.50! I thought I was imagining it, but I’ve seen it too often now. It’s definitely happening.

I thought maybe the franchisee was a religious nut, and he had programmed the register to subtract 16 cents every time it came out to $6.66, but that can’t be it. I’ve compared the prices printed on the receipt to the prices on the menu, and they match. There’s no reason for it to come out to the higher amount in the first place.

Has anybody else seen that happen or know why a register would display a wrong price at first and then the correct price?

A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste

January 26, 2012

No, actually, a mime is a terrible thing.

We're in a mime field

There has been so much bleakness and divisiveness on this blog lately that I decided it was time to run something we all can agree on: Mimes. We hate ’em!

It turns out those sick bastards at Lego actually released a mime figure! That, of course, was just asking for trouble.

I found a Flickr group called “The Brothers Brick ‘A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste’ Contest”. Most of the entries aren’t very good. A few are, though. Here are some of my favorites.

We're in a mime field

We're in a mime field

We're in a mime field

Their invisible car has stalled!
(Maybe it’s trapped in an invisible box.)

We're in a mime field

We're in a mime field

Obama’s Record

January 18, 2012

You voted for this

This blog, at its core, has always been about civil liberties. Historically, I have focused on the threat to those liberties by Christian fundamentalists, because I viewed them as the biggest threat to those liberties. I have included politics since the beginning, although I have tried to de-emphasize it where possible. Coverage of fundamentalism cannot be completely uncoupled from politics, because the fundies and Republicans have merged so completely that it is often impossible to tell one from the other.

I have recently expanded the scope of this blog to the coverage of all civil rights abuses and threats. I still plan to focus on fundies, I’m just no longer excluding other stories.

Since January 20th of 2009, the biggest threat to our civil liberties has been Barack Obama.

I am not going to change the focus of this blog away from the Christian fundamentalist threat. That is where this blog belongs. I’m just not going to ignore the other threats.

So for clarification of that last article, and to more precisely enumerate the reasons for my displeasure, here is an excerpt from an article by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following?

  1. Codify indefinite detention into law
  2. Draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process
  3. Proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens
  4. Prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets
  5. Reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible
  6. Enter and prosecute such a war
  7. Institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports
  8. Oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots
  9. Wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy
  10. Invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits
  11. Preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries
  12. Attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed)
  13. Reauthorize the Patriot Act
  14. Select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.

Why I Won’t Be Voting for Obama

January 17, 2012

Vote away your civil liberties

The discussion in the Rick Santorum comment thread has veered into whether Obama is worth voting for.

He’s not. Not one bit.

His civil liberties record is one of the worst in history. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, writing in the Los Angels Times, wrote:

Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama.… Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama may have flown by the fail-safe line, especially when it comes to waterboarding. For many civil libertarians, it will be virtually impossible to vote for someone who has flagrantly ignored the Convention Against Torture or its underlying Nuremberg Principles. As Obama and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. have admitted, waterboarding is clearly torture and has been long defined as such by both international and U.S. courts. It is not only a crime but a war crime. By blocking the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for torture, Obama violated international law and reinforced other countries in refusing investigation of their own alleged war crimes. The administration magnified the damage by blocking efforts of other countries like Spain from investigating our alleged war crimes. In this process, his administration shredded principles on the accountability of government officials and lawyers facilitating war crimes and further destroyed the credibility of the U.S. in objecting to civil liberties abuses abroad.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are war criminals. Obama is an accessory to war crimes.

It isn’t just the non-prosecution of the Bush administration war criminals. More importantly, the problem is also the prevention of the abused to seek redress through the courts. Matthew Payne, at The Paltry Sapien, eloquently writes:

The Obama Administration has closed the court house doors to numerous civil rights suits by those detained, tortured and kidnapped in the name of “national security.” Not to belabor the point, but any country whose national security needs to be protected by illegal detention, torture and kidnapping is not a liberal democracy. It is not even a civilized state—it is a rogue nation in every sense of the word and the Kafka-esqe equivocations of Obama’s Department of Justice grossly misusing judicial pettifogging such as “standing” do little to hide this reality. And the relentless expansion of the surveillance state makes Barack Obama the director of a nightmarish remake of The Lives of Others.

It is the police state that the United States has become that bothers me the most. We were already rapidly heading in that direction. Obama, somehow, managed to accelerate that sprint even more.

Matthew Payne continues:

As bad as Obama has been in prosecuting the Forever War…

He’s referring to the “Global War on Terror™”, not the other Bush wars Obama has continued.

…and its concomitant attack on civil liberties…, he has been a full-on disaster for the protection of civil rights.… The Democratic Party will not rein in the power of their “own” president, and many strong critics of the assault on civil rights have been silenced by either the taint of association of this rights-ignoring administration, or fear to stand up to the bullying of an arrogant and callous President for fear that a bigger bully, in the form of a GOP neo-McCarthyism, awaits in the wings.… Civil libertarians are demonized by the GOP and marginalized by the Democrats; far too many of them chose a vapid “pragmatism” by staying with the political faction that pretends to listen to them, at least around primary season.… Unfortunately in living this lie, that choosing the lesser of two evils is not choosing evil, these liberals have made themselves moral eunuchs.

Show some balls. Don’t vote for Obama.

Vote away your civil liberties