Friday, April 13, 2007

Is the Don Imus Firing a Good Thing?

I’ve listened to Don Imus in the past and the pattern never varies: he’s often very listenable, a good interviewer with good guests, and then it happens – he says something that is simply inexcusable.  It never fails to happen, and then I find myself changing the station in search of something less depressing.

It’s depressing because it did not have to be that way.  Imus was perfectly capable of conducting a good radio and TV show without resorting to the worst kinds of stereotypes that targets women, ethnic minorities, personal enemies (that sometimes include non-celebrities such as his own vendors) and politicians that he has, randomly it would seem, chosen to destroy.

It is inarguable that he targets women; almost every women mentioned is judged by her appearance, and often is criticized over their appearance.  The regular cast and crew is overwhelmingly male and the few women who enter the Imus domain must be either thick-skinned or willing to play along in the role of “slut.”

Ethnic minorities do only a little better but are often targeted by Bernard McGuirk, the show’s producer.  Produced sketches often feature minority personalities voiced in the most stereotypical manner possible without regard to the way the actual person sounds in real life.

So it was no surprise that Imus and McGuirk picked on the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team that made the 2007 NCAA final four, since his aim is so scattershot: he pointlessly called them “nappy headed hoes.”

There is no defense, of course for this remark, and again, it fits in with a long pattern of bigoted and cruel statements in his past.

Why then is his firing not a 100% slam dunk good thing?

First of all, is the waste of the talent of Don Imus: he can be very good at what he does.  Secondly, he also has redeeming features in his character such as philanthropy involving charities for children, and the occasional truth seeking in the political realm.  These are not small things.

There is also the problem of persons like Al Sharpton who took an active role in the campaign to fire Imus, and who, in the past, contributed to racial division themselves (e.g.: the Tawana Brawley hoax.)  Sharpton himself has come a long way over the years, to his credit; should an Imus receive the same slack for lesser misadventures?

There are other problems with this firing that have little to do with Imus himself, however.

With this firing, the standards of what is allowable and what is not allowable has been muddied: how is a person like Michael Savage STILL heard over the airwaves?

According to a Media Matters transcript Savage has said on his show: “But basically, if you're talking about a day like today, Martin Luther King Junior Day, and you're gonna understand what civil rights has become, the con it's become in this country.  It's a whole industry; it's a racket.  It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it.

Take a guess out of whose hide all of these rights are coming.  They're not coming out of women's hides.  Are they?  No, there's only one group that's targeted, and that group are white, heterosexual males.  They are the new witches being hunted by the illiberal left using the guise of civil rights and fairness to women and whatnot.

Equality and fairness is a “guise” to rob white heterosexual males of their birthrights, which can only mean “privilege” in the world of Michael Savage.  Yes, people like Savage deserve these privileges and others do not.  If he is talking about “merit,” please keep in mind that in his spare time, he promotes homeopathy; he has a Ph.D. in “nutritional ethnomedicine” from U.C. Berkeley.

From another Media Matter transcript Savage said, “Only a devastating military blow against the hearts of Islamic terror coupled with an outright ban on Muslim immigration, laws making the dissemination of enemy propaganda illegal, and the uncoupling of the liberal ACLU can save the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />United States.  I would also make theconstruction of mosques illegal in America and the speaking of English only in the streets of the United States the law.”  (Go to http://mediamatters.org/issues_topics/people/michaelsavage. )

There are over 200 radio stations carrying Michael Savage, and his listenership is considerably more than that of Imus, yet there is no equivalent uproar.

How is it that Imus gets canned when he must be no more than 20th on the list of most bigoted radio hosts, and in fact possesses a number of actual redeeming features?

And speaking of bigotry, how does anyone have the right to criticize Don Imus when the President of the United States can so openly declare without consequence and, in fact, congratulations that he would never nominate a non-believer to the nation’s courts?  (Go to http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/6/27/144852.shtml .)  If anyone thinks that all bigotry will be treated harshly post-Imus, think again!

In the zeal to clean up the airwaves, will criticism of religion, government, society, etc., be stifled in fear of possible retribution?  Unfortunately it is still usually ok to be bigoted against gays, Muslims and, of course, atheists.

The firing of Don Imus is almost too random to be useful and edifying; I have no idea what comes next, and I have no idea if it will be better than what came before.


Tags: , , atheists

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

About thirty-six years ago, as a struggling young college student taking the wrong major at the wrong school while the country was fighting the wrong war in Vietnam, my English Professor, Dr. Winters, assigned his students to write a report on the following book: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  The book was, if you can excuse the term, a revelation.  The book answered none of the questions about life and death and meaning and purpose that probably pre-occupied many others in similar positions then (and now) but it did something better: it made me face those questions.

I did not understand, at the time, the point of view from which Kurt Vonnegut's Jr.'s novels were written.  It wasn't until many years later that I discovered humanism. I then quickly understood that a life stance based on reason and compassion as opposed to faith and obedience had a much better chance of making the world a better place and bringing happiness to oneself and to others.  Humanism also had the advantage of being reality-based.  When I found that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was the honorary president of the American Humanist Society, I was surprised and not surprised at the same time.  It all made sense.

Listen: Kurt Vonnegut would say this:  “I am a humanist which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”  So it goes. 

Thank you Mr. Vonnegut.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Hidden and the Denialists

Representative Pete Stark, a California democrat, whose district is in the San Francisco Bay-area town of Fremont, confirmed his lack of belief in deities in a statement to The Associated Press.  Stark said he was "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."

Of course, we welcome and congratulate Rep. Stark for his honesty on this issue, while making no judgment on his political convictions.  In a year of stunning breakthroughs for non-believers, including bestselling books and a general climate of interest in non-theism, this is the latest and perhaps most significant event of all.

Yet, as others have pointed out however, Rep. Stark is but one out of over 535 Congresspersons; he comprises less than .5% of the total of Congress yet non-believers represent at least 5% to 15% of the total electorate!  Isn’t it a certainty that there are others in Congress who are also non-theists, yet cannot admit it?

The recent search conducted by the American Humanist Society, which discovered Stark’s beliefs, uncovered no other elected openly non-theists aside from three (3) school board members.  Imagine that; one member of Congress, three school board members and almost no other elected official were openly non-theistic in the whole of the USA!  This certainly makes a liar out of those who blame atheism for, well, almost anything that plagues our society.  If we are harming society, the harm certainly isn’t being perpetrated by openly atheistic legislators!

Now we know there are others who are non-theistic but are afraid to admit it or make it evident to the public.  After all, only 45 percent of Americans said they would vote for a "generally well-qualified" atheist, according to a February Gallup Poll, ranking them lowest on a list that included Mormons (72 percent), candidates on their third marriage (67 percent) and homosexuals (55 percent).

I will put forward, however, that there are many others who, while presenting a publicly pious fa├žade, have an absolutely incoherent belief system that they themselves cannot decipher or are in total denial of what they actually believe (note: this is not including those who consciously are hiding their self-admitted skepticism to the public.)  In addition, not only do the publicly pious persons not explicitly admit their non-theism or lack of theistic beliefs or contradictory beliefs, they then still promote religious fundamentalism.  This shilling separates them from the doubters merely in hiding.

In light of the recent "outing" of atheist Rep. Pete Stark, I therefore propose a new method of categorization of the religious sensibilities of elected officials (and everyone else I suppose.)  The categories would be 1) Theists 2) Non-theists 3) The Hidden Non-theists 4) Denialists.

Who could I be talking about?

For the theist category we have many candidates such as President Bush, Sen. Inhofe, former Sen. Santorum and many others who seem to sincerely believe in what they’re claiming.  Here is one key to determining who is in this category: their statements are so ridiculous that only a true believer would make them.

President Bush has told Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine that God told him (Pres. Bush) to attack bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  He also told this to Pat Robertson, as Robertson admitted on the CNN show of Paula Zahn.

Sen. Inhofe, aside from denying man-made climate change, promotes Intelligent Design and has actually said on the floor of the Senate that “God gave Israel to the Jews” and concludes that foreign policy should be based on that belief.

Sen. Rick Santorum, in his religiously induced state of brain-deadness has likened homosexuality to bestiality.

Only true believers would bother to go out that far on an illogical and unreasonable limb for the sake of their beliefs.

Of course, there are other believers that we can be fairly confident are believers even though they appear sane: Jimmy Carter is as pious as any political figure ever and yet has led a sensible, ethical and productive life.  Martin Luther King Jr. is an even better example of exemplary public service in the form of a true believer.  Please note their lack of fundamentalism however.  This is a category for the honest, reasoned or not.

The category of non-theists, for now, consists of Pete Stark.  His simple admission is self-explanatory and pretty much completes the category!

The category of Hidden Non-Theists can only be speculated upon but may I suggest the following nominees for this category:

Rudy Giuliani: Considering that he is thrice divorced and as damned to Hell as anyone we know, how sincere could his piety be?  In addition to his sins of divorce and adultery, Rudy has been supportive of gay rights, abortion and gun control.  This is a sure prescription for Hell; unless one does not really believe, right?

Barack Obama: In an interview Sen. Obama said, "It's not 'faith' if you are absolutely certain," noting that he didn't believe his lack of "faith" would hurt him a national election.  He also offered, "Evolution is more grounded in my experience than angels."  Considering thatObama’s mother was a humanist and both his father and stepfather gravitated towards atheism, the truth about Obama’s real beliefs may not be known until after his Presidential aspirations or eligibility are at an end.

I am sure that readers could suggest numerous other possible examples for the Hidden non-theist category.  Please keep in mind that these are persons who are probably self-aware of their beliefs but out of political necessity, are “in the closet.”

But now for the juiciest category: Denialists.

From a Booklist review about a book on Karl Rove called “The Architect”: “Moore and Slater, authors of the best-selling Bush's Brain(2003)…  offer a portrait of a bright, cynical, and manipulative man bent on maintaining Republican political dominance for generations to come.  Himself an agnostic, Rove has masterminded a strategy that has helped to broaden the Republican base beyond its pro-business, anti-government heritage to appeal to devout evangelicals.”

Another review of this book, found in Raw Story, says, “There is much to digest in The Architect, but new details of Rove's family history, self-proclaimed agnosticism, and the political machine built by friends such as the scandalized lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are certain to raise the hackles of Rove's Republican base.

Citing on the record sources including close friends of the elder Rove, Moore and Slater reveal he (Karl Rove’s adoptive father, Louis Rove) lived openly as a gay man and remained close to his son throughout his life

Rove spoke of his adoptive father in a tone of fierce admiration, love, and loyalty, for, as he put it, "how selfless his love had been," as shown by his willingness to play, persuasively, the part of a blood parent for two decades…

One might think that such a sensitive family situation might have kept Rove from using it as a political ace-in-the-hole.  Instead, Rove made sexual orientation -- specifically, gay marriage -- the centerpiece of a presidential campaign aimed at getting out conservative voters in states like Ohio.  (Go to http://www.rawstory.com/news/2006/New_book_alleges_Rove_agnostic_stepfather_0902.html .)

My point could not be made clearer than this: Karl Rove, a.k.a. Bush’s Brain, though he has never said this explicitly, may have no theistic beliefs as claimed by these authors, and/or possesses a totally incoherent belief system that he himself cannot articulate; yet he constantly empowers religious fundamentalists politically and socially.

Rove apparently loved his gay father yet his “Denialism” allowed him to target gay persons for the goal of having re-elected George W. Bush.

Could anything be lower?  If this isn't being in denial, what is?

Perhaps another candidate for this category can approach Rove for duplicity: Presidential candidate John McCain.

McCain once famously said, "Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.  I recognize and celebrate that our country is founded upon Judeo- Christian values, and I have pledged my life to defend America and all her values, the values that have made us the noblest experiment in history.  But political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value.  The political tactics of division and slander are not our values.  They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.  Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson.  We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests.  We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.”  (Go to http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0002/28/se.01.html .)

Nowadays Sen. McCain is singing a different tune.

From a transcript from Tim Russert’s show:

RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you were on here in 2000, I asked you about Jerry Falwell, and this is what you said:

MCCAIN (clip, 3/5/00): Gov. Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.  Those aren’t the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party. (End of clip.)

RUSSERT: Do you think that Jerry Falwell’s ideas are now good for the Republican Party?

MCCAIN: I believe that the “Christian Right” has a major role to play in the Republican Party.  One reason is because they’re so active and their followers are.  And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party.  I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party.  If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party.  I believe in open and honest debate.  Was I unhappy in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair?  Of course.  Should I get over it?  Should I serve — can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward?

RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?

MCCAIN: No, I don’t.  I think that Jerry Falwell can explain how his views on this program when you have him on.  (Go to http://thinkprogress.org/2006/04/02/mccain-falwell/ .)

Former Gov. and current presidential candidate and self-professed Mormon Mitt Romney is another fellow one has to wonder about: when he was governing liberal Massachusetts he claimed to be a supporter of gay rights.  Now that he is running for president, he is their most bitter enemy!  Here is the amazing part: the Religious Right seems to be OK with persons who are two-faced as long as they prove that they are willing to cow-tow to them in the long run.  Hypocrisy is not a problem to the Religious Right if it is coupled with a flagrant lack of integrity!

The most duplicitous of this category could be Newt Gingrich, however.  While heading the impeachment charge against President Clinton for Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Gingrich was actually carrying on an affair with a young staffer as well, leading to his second divorce and, subsequently his third marriage!  That is bad enough, of course, but Gingrich added a huge layer of hypocrisy to his foundational hypocrisy by being a long-time stalwart supporter and proponent of the Religious Right while violating numerous values they supposedly espouse (but which they often fail to internalize.)  Now that he’s considering running for president, he recently professed his belief in a forgiving Lord and Savior in a particularly pathetic radio interview with James Dobson.  Once again you have to wonder about what Newt Gingrich really believes.  However it does confirm that the Religious Right values subservience above all other of its supposed values.

Those who automatically eliminate non-theists for consideration when voting should realize (but won’t) that they continually support monsters of their own making: they’ve created the Karl Roves, John McCains, Mitt Romneys and Newt Gingrich’s of the world who cannot admit even to themselves that they completely disagree with the very constituency that they hope to exploit in order to acquire power.  In a sense, when the Religious Right empowers Denialists, specifically, the cynical likes of Karl Rove, or in the future, a John McCain, Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, they are knowingly accepting persons who do not respect them, probably do not believe in the sames things as them, but are acceptable anyway - because they are willing hypocrites.

 

Monday, April 2, 2007

How Cowardice by the Secular Helps the Religious Right

From the National Committee on Science Education:

   A creationist measure in the Tennessee state senate is raising eyebrows…
  
Senate Resolution 17, introduced in the Tennessee state senate on February 21, 2007, by Raymond Finney (R-District 8), would, if enacted, "request the commissioner of education to provide answers to questions concerning creationism and public school curriculums in Tennessee," beginning with;

"Is the Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?"

If the answer is yes, then SJR 17 poses the further question;

"Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?"

If the commissioner declines to answer onthe grounds that it is impossible to prove or disprove any answer, then SJR 17 poses the further question;

"Since it cannot be determined whether the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?"

And if the answer is no, then SJR 17 poses no further questions, remaining content to express admiration of the commissioner "for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators, and others."

For the text of SR 17 (PDF), visit: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/BILL/SR0017.pdf .

For the whole story go to http://www.nashvillepost.com/news/2007/2/26/senate_resolution.

The intent of the resolution is obvious; if the Commissioner of Education answers as a theist, then the question may be sensible - why not teach Creationism since even the Commissioner believes Creationism is “truth.”  If the Commissioner waffles and says Creation cannot be proven or disproven, then the logic supports Creation as an “alternative” theory to the other “unprovable” theory.

Both answers are inappropriate.  The truth is that there is no scientific evidence of Creation or Design, and much evidence of evolution and Natural Selection, and that is what the Commissioner must say.

This latter answer MUST be the answer the Commissioner gives.  If there were any evidence for Creation or Design, there would be a scientific basis for those ideas – but there isn’t.

And at the risk of horrifying every theist in Tennessee, the only answer must be the truthful one given by the Commissioner: that since there is no scientific evidence for Design or Creation and abundant evidence for Natural Selection, only evolution may be taught in science class.

The escape hatch for the embattled Commissioner is this: although abundant evidence for Natural Selection and evolution exists and there is a total lack of evidence of Design and/or Creation, this does not constitute a “proof” of the non-existence of God.

Many theists will not be happy about these honest answers, but all other answers would be either be lies or outright cowardice.

Here’s a prediction: cowardice or ignorance will rear its ugly face.  No Commissioner in Tennessee will declare there is no evidence for Creation and keep his job.  If he/she’s brave he’s done; if he/she’s a coward, he/she stays.

Pakistani Minister Killed by Religious Fanatic for Being Female

Adapted from the Rationalists International bulletin

Zilla Huma Usman, 35, Pakistani minister and fighter for women’s rights, has been shot dead by an Islamic fundamentalist.  Ms. Usman was about to address a meeting of party activists in Gujranwala, 120 miles south east of Islamabad, where her office is based.  When she stepped out of her car, the attacker fired a single shot from his pistol at close range at her and hit her in the head.  She was airlifted to a hospital in Lahore, but died soon afterwards.

Zilla Human Usman was minister for social welfare in Punjab province and joined the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League after being elected in 2002.  She was a strong supporter of the President’s policy of “enlightened moderation” and an outspoken and courageous proponent of women’s emancipation.  In April 2005, she encouraged the holding of a sports event involving female competitors in Gujranwala.  The program led to riots and police had to protect it from armed Islamic fanatics, who tried to disrupt it.  Ms Usman also run a fashion shop and encouraged women to wear modern dress.  Giving an example, she herselfused to wear salwar kameez like many professional women in Pakistan, and to go without veil.  Ms Usman was married and mother of two sons.

The assassin, Mohammad Sarwar, is a stone mason in his mid forties, who seems not to belong to any fundamentalist outfit, but is known for his fanatism.  After his arrest, he appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God’s order to kill women who sinned.  “I have no regrets.  I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership.  He also criticized that the minister did not obey the Islamic dress code and wore no veil.  “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said.

In 2003, Sarwar was charged with a string of murders of Gujranwala women, described variously in Pakistani press reports as dancers or models or prostitutes.  But conservative religious groups, who are powerful in the city's politics, pressed witnesses and victims' relatives to abstain from testifying against him and the case was dropped, police have told Pakistani journalists.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a recent report said that violence against women had increased alarmingly, with some of the incidents incited by Mullahs opposed to women’s emancipation.  Islamists also campaigned against the Women Protection Bill which was recently passed by parliament, which seeks to provide protection to women who have suffered discrimination under Islamic Sharia laws.

Women are gravely under-represented in Pakistan politics. They make up about 20 per cent of the lower house of parliament, and there are three women ministers in the cabinet of the federal government.