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Archive for February, 2012

– Yes, mandatory work activity schemes are mandatory, and no, they aren’t fair. The nonsense of “fairness” is shown up for what it is in this article, too. If fairness means making others suffer so that those who are already suffering feel better about not suffering alone, then no thanks.

– Plenty of extremist maniacs still want Salman Rushdie dead, but they’re not willing to pay so much for it nowadays.

– How is America’s attempt to cut back on spending going?

– “A second term for Obama won’t in and of itself awaken the public to the bipartisan, systemic nature of American plutocracy anymore than Bill Clinton’s second term did. A Republican in office might awaken the partisan left’s devotion to peace and freedom again, but only until the next Democrat is in power.

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There’s an assumption that Christians doing Jesusy things is never any kind of obstruction to anyone. That you should just get out of their way if they want to Jesus it up at any point. That explicit Jesusification should be expected as the standard, even in official state affairs, and it’s up to you to either move aside or keep quiet if you’re going to stray from this default setting.

So I’m generally inclined to support cases like this, where Christianity is being actively promoted by schools in even some subtle and minor way. It might not be the biggest, wrongest wrong out there, but it’s still wrong, and religious privilege is never going to go away unless things like this are addressed.

But I can understand those who think it’s not worth the fight. Reasonable people can believe that secularist battles like this one are a little petty and unhelpful. I was moderately indifferent to Jessica Ahlquist and her plight, in fact, until the true, despicable face of religious fervour made itself known against her.

That is where the really important fight is. You might not think it’s worth launching a lawsuit against the religious language hanging on a wall in a school hall, or a student-led prayer at a graduation ceremony. But you can probably agree that taking a stand against people who’ll threaten you with death and torture for daring to question their privilege is a more noble fight.

In the above case of the graduation prayer, I haven’t seen anything like the kinds of threats Jessica received (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re out there somewhere). But I have seen Newt Gingrich.

When one district judge supported the plaintiff’s case, Newt said:

…judges appointed for life cannot be dictators and they cannot threaten our children with jail for saying the word ‘prayer.’

Which is just the kind of dramatic, hissy-fit overstatement you’ll be familiar with from religious folk if you follow much atheist activism. Nobody’s threatened anybody with any such thing, as I suspect Newt damn well knows but is hoping his core conservative Christian base will go along with it.

So, when an amended complaint was brought against the school again recently, it was nice to see that same district judge setting the record straight on one or two things in the official court opinion (PDF):

What This Case Has Not Been About

The right to pray.

Any American can pray, silently or verbally, seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, in private as Jesus taught or in large public events as Mohammed instructed.

Nice.

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– Good news, everyone! All the crime in America has been solved. At least, that’s the only plausible reason why undercover cops in Florida are artificially creating more crime by tricking teenagers into buying drugs. I cannot fathom how much desperate rationalisation must be going on in some people’s heads to convince themselves that they’re not making the world a worse place by implementing a scheme like this.

– Planning a holiday this year? Just remember that going back home again is a privilege, not a right. (via Radley Balko)

– A Muslim physically attacked a guy dressed as Mohammed, and a judge threw the case out. Apparently, because the guy was offended, his violent response doesn’t deserve any kind of punishment. It’s a good thing there’s nothing “offensive” about assault and battery, or we might get stuck in an infinite loop.

– Yet more evidence of the pointless inhumanity of the government’s “workfare” scheme: it doesn’t get people off Jobseeker’s Allowance any quicker. And there’s more details here on how the statistics being used to support it are deeply misleading.

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Don’t you miss the good old days, back when abortions in the USA happened about as often as they do nowadays, but thousands of women died every year?

No? Well, Rick Santorum does.

This is just another example of the dangers of letting religious ideology motivate your moral principles. Some Christians say atheists can’t be moral because we have no overruling guiding force to tell us what’s right and wrong. I say we have a much better shot than some Christians, who willingly submit to an overruling force that entirely shuts down their capacity to think for their damn selves.

Seriously, I’m willing to take Rick Santorum at his word on this. He thinks our approach to women’s health was better in the days when “people who did abortions were, you know, in the shadows”. Which was because many of these medical procedures – perhaps as many as 1.2 million a year – couldn’t be performed by qualified professionals in appropriate hospital settings, and hundreds of women a year were dying as a result, well into the 1960s (on top of numerous others suffering complications).

So the country Rick Santorum wants to run is one in which thousands of women die needlessly, and millions of eggs continue to be fertilised and reach the early stages of development before being terminated, but in which his conscience is clear because he can claim to have followed his own interpretation of his religious ideology to the letter. The fact that abortion is less common in countries where it’s legal? Not important. It’s the principle of the thing, and if that means the unnecessary deaths of people who won’t do what they’re told, so be it.

It’s either that or he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

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It’s not about politics or culture for Rick Santorum. He’s fighting an entirely religious fight. Not nearly enough Americans are terrified by that.

– According to a truly bizarre population chart from the BBC, Adam and Eve lived 50,000 years ago.

– Some interesting ethical quandaries about Kickstarter.

– Ten responses to the phrase “Man Up“.

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Don’t kill me, bro

Do you know how many people have died after being shocked with tasers? It’s up to five hundred, at least.

Most of them weren’t armed. Most of them weren’t a serious threat. Victims include a deaf cyclist who didn’t hear an instruction to pull over, and died after being shot with a stun gun.

The attitude some police officers take to tasers looks like this. That guy was lying on the ground with his hands behind his back when he was attacked. It was nothing to do with self-defence. Tasers are meant to provide a non-lethal alternative to shooting somebody, but I sincerely hope they wouldn’t have shot him as he lay there if they’d only had guns. He just wasn’t doing what he was told fast enough.

Remind me why those people wearing those uniforms get to use an electric shock weapon to assault somebody who was posing no direct threat to them at all? Oh, right. Government. Fine, then.

Okay, ignore the anti-state rhetoric of my increasingly anarchistic leanings. Let’s just go over the facts again, and give them some room to breathe.

Since the year 2001, five hundred people have died subsequent to having tasers used on them by police.

 

 

Is it possible that we could, as a society, if we really tried, do slightly better than that in the future?

Is there some way we could possibly stop failing and killing so many people?

I’m just asking.

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– “Different ideas are CONFUSING! I’m going to go have Satan’s abortion!

Lying about the political process is a fundamental right that some brave lobbyists are fighting to protect. (h/t Broadsnark)

– More dehumanising Republican logic in action. If a woman was willing to let someone’s penis inside them, it’s hypocritical for her to object when the government wants to shove some medical devices in there as well. Yes, people in positions of elected authority are actually arguing this. (Edit: Forgot the link for this one the first time.)

– Jesus and Mo try swapping religions. How do they believe all that shit?

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Bonus

RBS is handing out half a billion dollars in bonuses this year, on top of all its employees’ regular salaries.

This despite the fact that they failed to achieve the lending targets that were agreed to, and so aren’t actually providing as much of a public good as it’s been decided they ought to, even now the company is publicly owned.

But, you know. We’ve got to make sure these execs have a financial motivation to stay here, and are rewarded by a competitive market with no external regulation. Otherwise, well. They might not want to stay here and run our banks any more.

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Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury recently entered the Thunderdome of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, and had a rather nice chat. I livetweeted most of it, and there was pleasantly little to get agitated about. There was nothing particularly groundbreaking in it either, and it reminded me that I do like Rowan Williams a good deal.

What’s been most dreary about the whole thing, though, is the aspects that the press have chosen to pick up on. The Telegraph and the Mail, among others, ran headlines with the staggering revelation that Dawkins confessed to feeling – horror of horrors – uncertainty about the non-existence of God.

On the one hand, I suppose it’s understandable why they’d make such a fuss over such an inconsequential restatement of a position he’s been very clear about holding for many years. According to the standard narrative, these militant atheists are dogmatically certain that there’s no God. If they weren’t, they’d call themselves agnostics. They think that they’ve scoured every inch of the universe in which God might be hiding and somehow proved that he’s nowhere to be found.

The fact that this is entirely at odds with mainstream atheism is neither here nor there; ditto the fact that no other truth claims about the world seem to be imbued with the same ideological certainty. If you make the claim that “matter is made of atoms”, for instance, you’re unlikely to meet much resistance from people demanding to know whether you’ve really checked every atom in existence as closely as you possibly can, to make sure they’re definitely not comprised of the classical elements of the Aristotelian tradition.

When I say there’s no such thing as unicorns, this doesn’t cause much controversy; even if uncharted parts of the planet remain where they could exist, they’re generally agreed to be made-up creatures. But if someone showed me a unicorn, and their true existence was determined to a reasonable level of scientific certainty – if it definitely wasn’t an obvious prank, and so forth – then I’d change my mind about them, once the evidence was there.

Why do so many people assume we mean something else when we say there’s no God?

It’s disheartening that the implication “I’m not absolutely certain about this, and I could be wrong” is so alien and bewildering to so many people, and an admission of doubt could cause such a stir. Or perhaps it’s just journalists who are having trouble with it.

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– America’s spending nearly a trillion dollars on Defence this year. And next year. And the next year. And the next…

– If the Bible is so full of divine knowledge, provided by an omnipotent God who knew many things of which his desert nomad scribes couldn’t possibly have been aware, why doesn’t it contain any superior medical advice?

– I agree with just about everything in this Cracked article on interpersonal conflict, except the presumption that such problems are insuperable. If we learn more about ourselves, we can beat all of this.

“We cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition.” Hillary Clinton talking sense on female genital mutilation. Nice to see that particular excuse being prominently dismissed so unambiguously. Would be nicer still if male circumcision / genital mutilation were included also.

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