Posts Tagged ‘fox news’

Saying that Fox News killed Hallie Culpepper may not be hyperbole, but it feels like an unnecessary reinforcement of the partisan divide.

It’s a horrible story. She was an elderly woman who had a fall, and refused medical treatment, because she was scared of what “Obamacare” might do to her. She specified in her will that she didn’t want her money going to “the Muslim Brotherhood”, a terrifying organisation about which I’d lay money Ms Culpepper could not have provided a single fact, beyond that the President was all tied up in their evil affairs somehow.

She died because of ignorance and confusion. The “death panels” she was so frightened of simply don’t exist. None of her poorly understood and incoherently articulated worries had any bearing on reality. She didn’t have to die.

Ms Culpepper watched Fox News “religiously”. There’s no doubt a lot of the misinformation in her head, not least the nonsense that scared her out of accepting medical help that could have saved her life, was shoved in there by one of the most hatefully biased and unjust television channels in America. It might be true for Tracy Knauss to say that Fox News killed his mother.

But that fails to tell the whole story. The problem isn’t Fox News in itself. Fox News are a pustular symptom of the illness of modern politics. They’re among the most virulently efficient institutions at abiding by one of the few remaining rules of the political game: pick a side, stick to your guns, dehumanise and destroy the opposition, and loyally rationalise whatever’s being done by the people on your team who you find yourself having to defend.

If we don’t get out of this tribalistic mindset, there’s always going to be channels to watch or papers to read religiously out there, willing to assure us that only they know what’s best for us, and they’ll teach us how to watch out for those others who wish us ill.

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Spending much time examining the attitudes of, say, Fox News, on the subject of the rich and the poor, can very quickly become very illuminating.

It’s not just Fox, by any means, but they’re among the most prominent apologists for the classism and wealth gap in America. They’re among those devoting serious airtime to bewailing the nightmare of hotel housekeepers earning as much as $60,000 a year, while simultaneously complaining about the unfairness of Obama’s tax policy on those poor souls earning over $250,000, who are really struggling to get by.

What I think it illuminates is just how narrow a band of ideas people like this are actually interested in.

They don’t care to extrapolate downwards and consider, if a couple earning a quarter-million annually is having such a tough time, how much of a struggle it must be for people on one tenth of that income (which is still well above minimum wage). They don’t consider the reasons why the free market might value these housekeepers’ work at $60,000 a year, although they’re happy to assume that investment bankers earning hundreds of times that deserve every penny. They ignore how difficult and specialised a job the staff in this particular hotel might actually have, how good they might be at it, how many specific skills they might have acquired and honed. They seem oblivious to how negligible an impact this supposedly flagrant expenditure actually has on the economy as a whole, and don’t explain why we ought to be concerned that this money is somehow being misspent.

There doesn’t, in fact, seem to be a single economic consideration being given to the matter. It doesn’t even occur to them to consider it on that level.

No, they’ve just got a very clear idea of the kind of people who do this sort of work, and what sort of rewards they do and don’t deserve, based on how they feel about them.

Housekeeping is something poor people do, and should be treated as such. It’s just housework. A lowly thing for lowly people. $60,000 a year just feels like too much. More than they deserve. More than I want to see them getting for that lowly work they do. They’re only housekeepers.

But businessmen earning comfortably into six figures? Well, now, they’re more our sort of people, and you just wouldn’t believe the hard time they’re having at the moment, what with taxes and housing costs and private schools and daycare and sundry other vital expenses, and it’s so unfair the way people think they’re part of some privileged majority.

It’s not like a couple of hundred grand a year means you’re not allowed to have problems. But the way those problems are framed compared to other people’s can reveal a lot about your real priorities.

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– How much can you tell about Fox News by the people who comment on their site? Probably not much, if we’re being fair. But holy shit their commenters are awful.

– Recession for the majority, boom time for those at the top.

– An open letter to Channel 4 about its Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, from someone who ought to know.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the tabloids…

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The US government’s throwing money at religious symbolism again, and the American Atheists have launched a lawsuit against it.

For once, though, I’m not really on the atheists’ side.

In the rubble left by the destruction of the twin towers by terrorist-hijacked planes on 9/11, a couple of steel beams were found, maybe 15 feet high or so, which had been part of the building, and which roughly formed the shape of a cross. This symbol of Christianity, found at a time when many of that faith were suffering and terrified and in need of something to galvanise their shattered spirits, has become profoundly meaningful to some people.

Let’s not get into the issue of a loving God leaving this cross as a sign of hope for those New Yorkers who’d just seen Him let thousands of their friends and relatives be slaughtered. You’re too smart to need that spelled out for you.

What’s pertinent is the suggested inclusion of this “9/11 cross” in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is being planned to commemorate the lives lost in the attacks.

American Atheists think this is an unconstitutional endorsement of one specific religion by the government.

I’m not convinced. I think it’s just a museum piece going on display.

The museum director, on the memorial’s website, says:

The Museum will be about each of us, about what it means to be a human being, and what it means to live in a complex, global community at the start of the 21st century.

And a big part of that meaning for many people, and of their place in the community, is their religion. To memorialise the events of 9/11 without mentioning both the religious fanaticism that motivated the attacks, and the role that religion played in the way people faced the aftermath, would be to omit a crucial part of the story.

It’s a museum. It’s meant to document historical things. And this cross was a real thing, which really came to mean something important to a number of people, among many other artefacts which will be exhibited there.

The argument’s also been made that a lawsuit like this is terrible PR for atheists in general. I’m not sure where I stand on that, but given how much atheists are already hated by much of the American public, and how rarely many Americans are probably even prompted to think about atheists at all except when they’re hearing some news story about how we’re trying to ban all crosses or make Korans part of all school dinners or some such, it’s a non-trivial point to consider. Maybe even if we’re right, we should just leave this one, because we’re inevitably going to sound like hope-crushing buzzkills and nobody’s going to be on our side.

On the other hand, maybe we should just fight for what’s right and not worry about people disapproving of us every time we open our mouths. Because we’re never going to get anything done if we insist on trying to mollify the hate for atheists that’s already out there by stepping lightly and not doing anything provocative.

That link illustrates just a few of the violent death threats made against atheists on Fox News’s Facebook page after this story was reported. Hundreds of Christians were very publicly suggesting or offering to murder people who think differently from them, as the most simple and obvious solution to the problem that some people think differently from them.

Actually my favourite comment from that list wasn’t just directed at atheists:

I love Jesus, and the cross and if you dont, I hope someone rapes you!

Two people “liked” that one.

This isn’t a reason to back down and not make a fuss. People like that aren’t going to hate any less if they realise that hating works. We absolutely need to keep fighting, but it needs to be a worthwhile fight. And keeping this steel cross from being presented as a significant part of American history doesn’t seem worth it to me.

(h/t PZ, and Stef McGraw at Friendly Atheist)

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– I observed recently that a number of Conservapedia‘s editors seem to be deliberately turning it into a parody site, and it’s deranged proprietor is entirely failing to notice. Not quite to the same extent, but Fox News sometimes seem to be doing a similar thing, and doesn’t even need to be ridiculed.

– You might be letting your religion turn you into an inhumane wanktard if… You don’t want other people to get any help with their addiction problems unless it’s on your terms.

– Bank of America. Fuck yeah.

PZ Myers argues with Islamic fundamentalists for our sins. What does Jesus know about self-sacrifice?

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Yep. I’m talking about politics again.

In theory, I did have a more-sort-of-guideline-than-an-actual-rule about not doing that any more. But apparently that’s being abandoned almost as soon as it was established. I’m not going to get very in-depth or academic, but I feel on fairly safe ground when I ask:

What the fuck, America?

Yeah, it’s the healthcare thing. It’s the retarculous fuckosity that’s dominating what could be a useful national conversation.

It’s the mindless, droning repetition of mantras like “greatest healthcare system in the world”, based on the inviolable rationale that “USA = #1”, without any noticeable consideration of what factors might actually make a country’s healthcare system “great” or less so.

It’s the unimaginative and lackadaisical slapping of a Nazi label onto any policy that displeases you in any small way, restricting any counter-arguments to bellowed accusations of “HITLER HITLER HITLER“.

It’s the way that all of this is reported nationwide, constantly, as if it were really representative of the convictions and actions of a substantial and significant proportion of the country.

It’s the even scarier idea that that might actually be the case.

This piece sums a lot of it up pretty well, and the phrase “death panels” really does neatly encapsulate the problem. Anyone actually referring to these things, as if they were anything but figments, either knows the origin of the phrase and the real details of the policy it describes, or they don’t.

If they don’t, then they’re cluelessly parroting someone else’s ideas, probably because the anti-Obama sentiment suits them fine and that’s all they need. If they do, then they’ve abandoned all pretence of intellectual honesty, and appear not to care how much bullshit they have to make up to win.

The disingenuous nature of Fox News in particular is staggering. Last night’s The Daily Show demonstrated brilliantly what an important role Jon Stewart and his team are playing. They’re at the front lines of the battle to at least keep the debate internally consistent, and to some degree reasonable, enough that the rest of us aren’t head-desking so hard that splinters are stabbing us in the brain.

After the hilarious bollocks some Conservatives have been throwing out about institutions like the National Health Service in the UK in an effort to discredit the idea of socialised healthcare, comedy writer Graham Linehan started a campaign on Twitter. He asked people to report some of the NHS’s success stories that they’d experienced, the care they’d received, and the benefits that had been provided for them by the state, tagged with #welovetheNHS. It took off massively. It was the biggest thing happening on Twitter for several days straight, and produced thousands of stories about people whose parents or children or friends wouldn’t be alive today without the free help provided by the state.

There was a backlash, obviously, but the criticism that was actually interesting came mostly from UK people, in favour of the NHS, who simply didn’t find this form of debate constructive. After all, wasn’t it just countering useless, anecdotal data with more useless, anecdotal data?

I’m still inclined to think that #welovetheNHS does serve a valuable purpose, but we shouldn’t start thinking that this collection of stories amounts to the whole of the opposing side of the argument. It demonstrates the vacuity of certain conservative claims, perhaps, but a debate on public healthcare should be about much more than that. @jackofkent started a new hashtag (at least he’s the first person I remember seeing use it, and I think it began with him), called #wehaveahealthyscepticismabouttheNHS. Ideally, this would be a much better description of the tone of the conversation. It didn’t take off in quite the same way on Twitter, but I think there are a lot of people out there who want to have that healthily skeptical discussion. Maybe even a few right-wing American conservatives who have reasonable points to make, but are reduced to head-desking even harder than I am at seeing the lunacy of those perceived as speaking for them.

The question it seems to come down to, as is often the case in so many other areas of discussion, is: What’s the best approach to take to this loud, persistent, resourceful, and (perhaps irredeemably) irrational onslaught of zealots?

I guess there are parallels to religion in here, which you’ve probably thought about in more depth than I have. There’s much division among atheists about the best way to talk about religion and its adherents, and how to interact with them. Some are merciless and unapologetic in their promotion of science and critical thinking in every area of life, regardless of the danger of religious folk being “offended” by the awkward facts that contradict their arbitrary beliefs. Others decry that group as “shrill” and “militant”, and tread far more carefully as they seek out common ground, aiming to gain acceptance by appearing non-threatening.

I tend to side with the likes of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers on the militant atheism front, who are both very firmly in the former camp. I’m much less sure of the politically equivalent position, and whether I’d advise Obama taking such a firm stand in quite the same way. But judging by Barney Frank’s recent crowning moment of awesome, I’m tempted to think maybe a little bluntness would go a long way. Would it really do more harm than good to their popularity, if once in a while the White House would just call someone a moron and have done with it?

This is way more than I meant to write about this. I’ll stop now. But you guys carry on. Take this wherever you like, I anticipate the politics getting way over my head soon anyway.

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It’s always nice to find that someone else has already done such a thorough job of covering a particular point, that I don’t really need to add anything myself.

Certain idiotic blatherings on Fox News, about some atheist bus adverts in the US, were among a number of things I’ve seen lately which annoyed me enough to catch my attention, but also frustrated me enough to put me off trying to write anything coherent. If I tried describing this from scratch I think I’d just end up pounding the keyboard halfway through the first paragraph, and that’d probably just make me seem even less successfully witty and erudite than usual.

So a big thank you to Michael Rosch for this article at the Examiner, which very neatly takes apart this video.

The posters causing all the furore bear no more provocative a slogan than “You can be good without God”. It’s an entirely positive message, and demonstrably true. It says nothing critical about anyone, such as those who might choose to be good with God. It’s just a message of inclusiveness, letting the non-religious know that not everyone sees them as immoral monstrosities, and reminding the religious that sometimes other people who think a bit differently from you might be okay.

And there are still some people who’ll say things about it like:

I feel it’s an outright attack on Christianity.

I feel like the language of it is inflammatory…

You have to realize that there are a lot of Christians in that area who are highly offended by this.

It’s quite staggering how puny, flimsy and fragile your most deeply held convictions must be if they’re so easily threatened. Nobody even has to mention Christianity for you to feel as if you specifically are suffering an “outright attack”. The claim that “You can be good without God” – the mere suggestion that people who don’t share your religious views are not pure evil – is “inflammatory”.

And if some Christians are “highly offended” by the way that people with contrary ideas sometimes don’t just shut up and let Jesus have the complete run of the place… well, I refer you to the always eloquent Mr Stephen Fry, who asks: So fucking what?

Ugh, I’ve already spent far more time thinking about this than is good for me. I’m going to bed.

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I had hoped to write something properly about this today, but it became 11:30 on Friday evening more quickly than I’d expected, and now even gathering a coherent set of opinions seems like too much effort. Maybe I’ll talk more about it later, but for now, go watch this video here to see Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute talking absolute bullshit and getting ripped apart for it. Then watch this other video to hear about the Discovery Institute illegally filing a copyright claim against the guy who made that last video. Then go here to get some context from Rebecca Watson on the whole thing, and some ongoing discussion in the comments.

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I’ve had some disordered thoughts about politics and humour floating around for a while, which I’m going to try and flesh out a bit here.

I’m a big fan of comedy, both as a consumer and as an aspiring creative phenomenon and global sensation. And, lately, I’ve also been engaging in the occasional foray into the scary and confusing political arena. And although the latter is still pretty uncertain territory for me, there’s a lot of room for fun where the two cross over. In particular, without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I think the US would be in a pretty depressing state right now that it’d be hard to feel optimistic about (at least from over here across the pond, where those two between them are giving me the majority of my international news).

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are both enjoyed primarily by a liberal and/or politically left-wing audience. The people watching them tend to share certain values in common, so when Jon makes a joke about, say, gay marriage and the general Republican stance thereon, most people watching will agree with the fundamental principles the joke is based on, at least enough to find it amusing. If you’re a Republican against gay marriage, though, it’s not likely to go down so well; even if you perfectly understand the construction of the joke, you’d get bogged down in the fact that it makes light of your concerns against gay marriage, and seems to consider your position comical.

What made me think of this in particular now was reading this article, and seeing this trailer for a film called An American Carol. It’s a political satire with more right-wing leanings than most, and the fact that Bill O’Reilly features heavily as himself probably tells you a lot.

But there’s one scene in this montage, starting at 0:33, where the character Rosie O’Connell (see what they did there?) claims that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam”. We then cut to a shot of a panicking crowd on a bus, and a woman in sorta Christ-y attire apparently blowing herself up with the cry “Seventy-two virgins here I come!”

Now, there’s a few reasons not to be rofling your socks off at this. For a start, couldn’t they have thought of anything more Christian-themed for her to shout, rather than just lifting the seventy-two virgins thing directly? Seventy-two virgins have no role in Christian doctrine, that I’m aware of, so it would have been funnier if she’d been shouting something about… I dunno, whatever the hell a Christian might consider a noble cause to die for. The implicit message is that a Christian is unlikely to blow up a bus because they believe they’ll be rewarded with seventy-two virgins in the afterlife – if the message was that a Christian is unlikely to blow up a bus because they think St. Peter will let them into the gates of Heaven, then they’d be making more of an actual comparison between the two religions, and I think the satire would work better. This cartoon wouldn’t make any sense if the atheists depicted were really behaving like Christians, to the point that they were doing all these things for the sake of God.

But that’s a technicality. Actually, the joke in the movie is constructed entirely competently according to the rules of comedy, and reasonably well executed. It’s almost even funny, and very similar conceits (such as “Hey, what would a Buddhist suicide bomber look like?”) have been used in a number of sketches and comic routines before, often to good effect. The only thing stopping it working for me here is my personal political stumbling block, much like a Republican who might not “get” Jon Stewart’s jokes about Republicans.

It’s not that anything dear to me is being mocked or offended in an unacceptable way. I’m not a fan of either Rosie O’Donnell or Michael Moore, the two high-profile liberal celebrities being most obviously lampooned in the clips from the film I’ve seen. But the gag is founded on the concept that the very notion of fundamentalist Christians being dangerous is a laughable one. It takes the idea of “radical Christianity as a threat”, affects to imagine what that would look like, and decries the result as ludicrous and inherently comical. And although this is a fine formula for effective comedy, which has made me laugh in very similar forms before, it doesn’t work for me here, and when a part of me automatically chirps up with a “But, but…” of complaint in place of the intended guffaw, another part of me knows exactly how certain Republicans feel when they see Jon Stewart not understanding their family values and being fundamentally wrong about this whole gay thing.

Because come on, radical Christianity as a dangerous force is not a comical or ridiculous concept. Even without going into the history of the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the general principles of ostracising, persecuting, attacking and slaughtering dissenters even among the religion itself, modern Christians do some pretty messed-up shit which unquestionably falls under the heading of terrorism. There are plenty of them willing to attack abortionists and abortion clinics, or murder whoever obstructs what they see as their righteous quest, or blow shit up to make a point about the “homosexual agenda”… I could go on, but it seems so painfully obvious that this 2-billion strong religion does have a dangerously fanatical wing to it that there’s hardly any point. And now it’s supposed to be funny, watching a Christian murdering people because of irrational levels of devotion to her religion, much like the way that’s actually happened dozens of times before?

Okay, this really wasn’t meant to be a screed advocating any particular political viewpoint. I just thought it was an interesting thing to notice about comedy, that it may depend heavily on whether the viewer agrees with certain philosophical principles behind a joke, even if that’s the only thing that changes. I guess this relates to how easily the laughs came at the recent Republican convention when the words “community organiser” were mentioned, without any actual clever satirical commentary needing to be provided. Or the way sometimes Jon Stewart almost doesn’t need to say anything funny about a Fox News clip for it to be hilarious. How much of what we find funny only tickles us because it’s reinforces a worldview?

Eh. I dunno. I’m pretty sure Fox’s 1/2 Hour News Hour doesn’t seem funny to me because it’s retarded, not just because it doesn’t line up with my politics. Who the fuck is Rush Limbaugh, and what does he want?

Oh, and in other news, the Large Hadron Collider’s broken. Fuck. Looks like a faulty electrical connection, which would probably be easy enough to fix aside from the fact that a lot of things in the LHC, like electrical connections, are kept unbelievably cold. So, because the people who can fix it are being bloody inconvenient, and insisting that they won’t work in conditions 1.7 degrees above absolute zero, it’s going to take a while to sort it out. Upwards of two months, it looks like. So it goes.

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This is my major hang-up with being srs blogger, I think. It’s the same reason why reading David Baddiel‘s book is putting me off my stride with writing my own novel, but remembering Kathy Lette spurs me on with great enthusiasm. My confidence does tend to be very easily shaken by other people doing what I’m trying to do, only better than I could ever imagine myself doing it. And often, when I first read a news story worth ranting about, it’s because someone like Scalzi’s already fisked it right proper. One of my highlights:

And that’s why, you see, it won’t be a problem for Bill O’Reilly to refer to Barack Obama as “my nigga” on the next O’Reilly Factor.

I can almost believe it, too. Jesus fucking Christ, Fox News.

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