Archive for August, 2011

Let’s beat up on Ron Paul

August 23, 2011

Ron Paul fans should be careful about what they wish for.

Last week on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a segment on how the media’s been conspicuously avoiding coverage of the Quixotic Presidential campaign of Ron Paul. His supporters loved it, probably hoping that more coverage of Paul would mean more people getting on board with his campaign. But more coverage means more coverage of his crazier positions too, and there are a lot of them. During the 2008 Republican candidates’ “debates” (they’re kind of like debates in that people in suits stand at lecterns), the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believed in evolution. Most of the candidates did so, including Ron Paul. Then John McCain said something goofy about how he helped Jesus dig the Grand Canyon, or something like that. Shortly afterwards, a video showed up on the internet of Paul telling a much smaller, conservative Christian audience that he doesn’t believe in evolution.

“I, um, I think there, that it’s a theory. The theory of evolution. And I don’t accept it. You know, as a theory. I think the creator that, that I know, uh, you know, created us, every one of us, created the Universe. And the precise time and manner and uh, and all. I just don’t think we’re at the point where anybody has absolute truth on either side.” -Ron Paul

So we’ve got two possible ways of reconciling these contradictory positions: Either Paul is an evolution denying creationist and he lies to the much larger national audience, or he accepts what we know about how we came to exist and lies to smaller groups of ideologically skewered constituents when he thinks nobody will notice. Neither of those possibilities make him look good, especially since he’s been trying to earn this label of consistency in his campaigns. And that’s not even the extent of Paul’s weird Christianity. In 2003, he wrote a pretty terrible essay called The War on Religion for his friend Lew Rockwell. Rockwell’s another supposed “libertarian” who’s worked closely with Paul for decades. But anyway, this essay just reiterates Bill O’Reilly’s War on Christmas screeds, but with even less literary skill. Check this out:

As we celebrate another Yuletide season, it’s hard not to notice that Christmas in America simply doesn’t feel the same anymore.

If you read it, you’ll find Paul loves him some passive tense. It makes attacking your perceived enemies so much easier when you don’t have to actually identify them. Literacy problems aside, Paul doesn’t even seem to have a basic grasp of the Constitution he claims to hold in such esteem. He moans and bitches about the “anti-religious elites” who want to “transform America into a completely secular nation,” as if America wasn’t a secular nation from the very beginning. Apparently Paul believes America’s founders just forgot to mention that America is a Christian nation anywhere in the Constitution, which is weird since he claims to respect them so much. But here’s my favorite part of his whinefest:

Most noticeably, however, the once commonplace refrain of “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by the vague, ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” But what holiday? Is Christmas some kind of secret, a word that cannot be uttered in public?

This is the kind of lack of self-awareness you get in true religious zealots. I doubt it even needs to be said, but if not saying Christmas means that it’s a secret which can’t be uttered in public, then the same must be true of all other religious holidays at that time of year. A Jew could just as easily claim that saying either Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is driving Hanukkah underground. But Paul is incapable of looking at this “War on Christmas” nonsense from any perspective (let alone a Jewish one) other than his own narrow one.

Paul’s often described as Liberterian. There’s a tiny bit of truth to that, since his policies certainly lean that way. But Paul has been a Republican since at least 1992. He ran for President on the Liberterian ticket in 1988, and since then he’s been working in politics as a Republican. In ’92, Paul endorsed and advised the campaign of the racist Nazi sympathizer Pat Buchanan, who went on to lose the nomination for the Republican Party to George H. W. Bush.

Besides being “liberterian,” the other sales pitch for Ron Paul For President, Inc. has been that although he’s extremely conservative on fiscal issues, he’s socially liberal. He wants to legalize pot, for instance. But when it comes down to it, he sticks to the (Republican) party line on culture war issues. If you check out his voting record, you’ll see his votes against allowing adoption for gay couples in Washington, DC, against same-sex marriage, against taxpayer funding for abortions, and for displaying the Ten Commandments in government offices and courthouses. So much for his being “not a typical Republican.”

Some of those votes go back a few years, so it’s probably also worth noting that Paul’s still hammering away at culture war issues on behalf of his fellow Republicans. He’s even just recently tried to portray his advocacy of government restrictions on abortion as if it were on liberterian grounds:

“There is something that precedes liberty, and that is life,” Paul said. “If we are to defend liberty … you have to understand where that liberty, and where that life comes from. It does not come from the government, it comes from our creator.”
Paul recalled somewhat graphic stories from his time as an obstetrics-gynecology resident to explain his opposition to abortion rights.

There he goes again with all this “creator” talk, while at the same time saying that abortion should be illegal. And for some reason his supporters will keep on claiming that he’s not like those other Republicans, oh no, not at all.

There are some ways in which Ron Paul is different from the rest, but those are mostly issues where he out-flanks his colleagues on the right. So while your Republican neighbor next door wants to reduce regulations and “cut some red tape,” Paul wants to just eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, and many more. While your average Republican might agree with Rick Perry’s crazy idea to just stop the printing of paper currency, Ron Paul would like to go back to the Gold Standard.

Speaking of the Gold Standard, it’s possibly revealing to go back and look at the arguments made for it when it was an issue – back when Dr. Paul was 728 years young. It turns out that there was a heavy emphasis on what they called “natural law.” That doesn’t mean the laws of physics. They had some strange ideas back then about natural hierarchies of elements, and it turns out that people with a lot of gold discovered that gold was at the top of that hierarchy. Nice coincidence, huh? They drew an analogy to a supposed natural hierarchy among humans with (surprise, surprise!) white males on top.

Ron Paul, seen here forced by the government to work with a black guy to save the Federal Reserve.

So in this way they argued that changing to paper money would be a horrible tragedy which would upset both this hierarchy of elements as well as the patriarchy, both of which were backed up by this “natural law.” It’s the worst of the worst of hippy nonsense – all the mindless worship of nature and the naturalistic fallacy without any of the socially enlightened impulses against sexism and racism.

Paul also had some race issues when someone working on one of his newsletters wrote some terribly racist stuff on his behalf. To be fair, that staffer was eventually fired. And if it were just a matter of just that instance, or if it were just his weird views on gold and “natural law,” or if it were just an early 90s gig with Pat Buchanan, or if it were just the fact that his supporters are overwhelmingly white, any one of those could be overlooked. But when you consider each of them, you start to get a very different picture of who Ron Paul is and what he’s all about. That should make most of his supporters uncomfortable, but that’s what they asked for when they wanted more coverage of him.

Annie Jacobsen opposes the kinds of conspiracy theories she started

August 15, 2011

It’s silly to believe they’re aliens… They’re clearly part of a Nazi/Communist alliance’s propaganda campaign!

If I were to write a BEAST editorial about how journalists these days are being too offensive to people of faith and spirituality, everyone who read it would rightfully think of me as a huge hypocrite. Or maybe they’d think I’d suffered some kind of brain injury. When you’ve written about faith issues in the way I have, you kind of forfeit your right to complain about people doing the same

Similarly, if you write a book about Roswell and then promote it largely based on the final chapter which invents one of the most out-there conspiracy theories ever, you forfeit your right to complain about loony conspiracy theories. At least you should.

Apparently the NY Daily News doesn’t think so. Last Sunday they featured a mostly reasonable column by Annie Jacobsen about how America has become what she calls a conspiratocracy. It gives a crash course in the history of American conspiracy theories, and speculates as to why they’ve spread so rapidly recently.

There isn’t much with which to disagree in her piece, aside from that the subject she’s writing about is much too wide for a 450 word column. All of the conspiracy theories she mentions are definitely silly and deserving of increased mockery. But it’s definitely odd that Jacobsen would choose this as a topic given her recent past.

A few months ago, Jacobsen released a book about Area 51, the secretive military base which UFO believers claim is the headquarters of the government’s secret research on extraterrestrials and flying saucers. I have not read her book, but I did pay attention to how she promoted it, as authors do, in the media. Here she is on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but probably the most in-depth interview I heard was on NPR’s program Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I’ll get to that in a minute.

From what I’ve heard, most of the book is in the same vein as the NY Daily News column, rightfully debunking loony conspiracy theories about Area 51. But when you get to the last chapter, she introduces a bizarre conspiracy theory of her own to explain the 1947 Roswell incident which many believe to be a case of an alien spacecraft crashing in the New Mexico desert which was then quickly hushed up by the government. Here’s how she explained it to Terry Gross:

“The child-sized aviators in this craft [that crashed in New Mexico] were the result of a Soviet human experimentation program, and they had been made to look like aliens a la Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, and it was a warning shot over President Truman’s bow, so to speak. In 1947, when this would have originally happened, the Soviets did not yet have the nuclear bomb, and Stalin and Truman were locked in horns with one another, and Stalin couldn’t compete in nuclear weaponry yet, but he certainly could compete in the world of black propaganda — and that was his aim, according to my source. …

“What is firsthand information is that he worked with these bodies [of the pilots] and he was an eyewitness to the horror of seeing them and working with them. Where they actually came from is obviously the subject of debate. But if you look at the timeline with Josef Mengele, he left Auschwitz in January of 1945 and disappeared for a while, and the suggestion by the source is that Mengele had already cut his losses with the Third Reich at that point and was working with Stalin.”

So let’s count how many layers of absurdity we have here. The Soviets collaborated with the notorious Nazi Josef Mengele (1) in order to scare Americans by sending a flying saucer (2) across most of the continental US without detection until it crashed (3), presumably because it was piloted by mutated children disguised as aliens (4). And all of this is substantiated solely by one anonymous source speaking about something which allegedly happened over 60 years ago (5-infinity).

In that same interview, Jacobsen speculates that Mengele’s “child-sized aviators” were the subject of either surgical or genetic mutation. So the latter option would mean that Mengele rounded up people with odd genes in order to selectively breed them specifically for this program to be launched decades in the future in collaboration with the Russians. He must have had pretty amazing foresight in order to predict such an unlikely partnership.

Obviously this is all pretty ridiculous. If you have really low standards of evidence then it’s pretty easy to get away with this kind of “reporting” – all you have to do is find an old man far enough gone to make some kooky claims about having worked on this or that secret government project a lifetime ago, and you’ve got yourself a story. Make it the last chapter of your book and you’ll get on all the talk shows and sell lots of copies. It’s probably not a coincidence that “Con artist authors making up bullshit” doesn’t appear anywhere in Jacobsen’s explanation for why America’s become so obsessed with bullshit conspiracy theories lately. But it probably should be.

Melissa Harris-Perry would like more irrationality, please

August 3, 2011

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
-Voltaire

Melissa Harris-Perry, seen here being incredibly full of shit.

I like Rachel Maddow’s show. It’s one of the few I can stand on MSNBC. Sure, she slips into the “Defend the President and Party At All Costs” mode from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as egregious as some of her fellow hosts on the network. Also, her head is not a ginormous wonder to all surviving phrenologists, which is another plus.

Last week Maddow was on “vacation.” This might be true, or it might be that she was preparing her legal defense against a bullshit defamation lawsuit against her from heavy metal rock star / Christian minister Bradlee Dean. Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Maddow.

Last Friday, she recorded an un-aired segment about the proper role of faith in politics. Harris-Perry believes that such a thing exists. It’s one of those editorials which tries to get at a ‘big picture’ perspective but somehow still fails to say anything useful about anything, making us all stupider in the process.

She introduces the segment with a fair enough, albeit obvious point: That while we’re all learning about this right-wing Christian terrorist in Oslo who just killed nearly 100 innocent people, the US Congress is holding these hearings on the radicalization of Muslims taken straight out of The Crucible. She claims that the demonization of Muslims here in the States is “as much guided by prejudice as it is by evidence.” That sounds about right. Seems obvious enough. What else is obvious to most of us would be that it’s a bad thing to let policy be guided equally by evidence and whatever fills the void left by the lack thereof – in this case, prejudice.

“I saw Goody Proctor with the Prophet Mohammed!”

But then things take a turn. Suddenly, Harris-Perry orders the audience to ignore any kind of faith-inspired political violence:

“Let’s not talk about fanaticism. Let’s not talk about violence. Let’s just talk about religion in the political world and the ways it’s been divisive.”

And we’re not talking about fanaticism and violence because… why exactly? Fanaticism and violence are ways in which religion’s impact on the political world have been divisive, to put it extremely mildly. So why not talk about it? In whose interests does it serve to just ignore violent religious fanatics? Definitely not those of us who’s rather they not be inspired by their stupid beliefs to do stupid things, like fly planes into buildings or shoot up a camp full of teenagers. She continues:

“In this moment, it often seems that the connection between religion and politics happens exclusively on the right.”

She then lists some examples of conservatives “using religion” in order to advance their agenda: the anti-gay, anti-woman, and anti-science policies so popular with the right these days (n.b. apparently all of those positions are “not fanatical,” according to the host here, since she earlier decreed that we shouldn’t talk about fanaticism). This should be a PR bonanza for us progressives. We could be using this perception of faith-based politics being a mostly conservative phenomenon to point out that it’s the right who are the ones disconnected from reality and with their heads in the clouds.

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first to say that.

But Harris-Perry makes it clear that she doesn’t have much of a problem with that disconnect. Her only problem with it is that the conservatives have their heads in the wrong clouds. Instead of just laughing at those religious conservatives who base their politics on goofy beliefs which aren’t supported by evidence, Harris-Perry tries to convince us that the real problem is that most people don’t recognize that believing in nonsense is something liberals should be adamant and proud about as well:

“We do not need to give up faith… The faith ‘tool’ I want us to retain is the one that gives us strength in the face of daunting circumstances. I understand the appeal of reason. But if we look exclusively at the evidence in the world, it’s a pretty bleak place.”

Harris-Perry then goes on to relate some sad facts about the world, but she forgot the part where she demonstrates that we can’t be inspired by the real world and the empirical evidence in order to change those sad facts. Looking at what’s called the cold hard truth can actually get people off their asses, but having faith just pacifies us and makes us comfortable waiting around for someone else to fix our problems.

And though I obviously agree with her in that the disparity between rich and poor is a bad thing, others might not see it that way. Others might look at the advances made by civil rights and science and become depressed, thinking the world is a “bleak place” because of them. Using Harris-Perry logic, they’d be perfectly justified in ignoring the empirical evidence (for example, that there can be more genetic differences between two people of the same race than between two people of different races) and rely on their faith.

Or we could go back to Bradlee Dean and his bullshit defamation suit against Rachel Maddow and MSNBC. If Dean only looks at the empirical evidence, it looks like his lawsuit is transparently ridiculous and doesn’t have a chance at succeeding in an American court. This makes Bradlee Dean sad. The world looks like a bleak place to him. His circumstances are daunting. So he should apparently rely on his faith to give him the strength he needs to carry on with his frivolous lawsuit.

That’s the big problem with having a place for faith in politics. It’s all way too subjective since there’s no epistemological basis we can all agree upon. And since we can’t even agree on the difference between what we believe because it’s true and what we believe because it feels good, any distinction between what is and is not “fanatical” is going to end up being totally arbitrary. Harris-Perry already proved this earlier in the segment by supposedly suspending discussion of the fanatical and then proceeding to immediately talk about conservative religious fanaticism.

Harris-Perry’s brought up this sort of thing before, and for some reason she’s being praised to high Mormon heaven for it (that’s a cheap jab by me, since her mother’s side of her family was Mormon). So it’s important for rational people to fight back against this glorification of faith, because if we don’t then the only opposition will be coming from other faith positions and our political discourse will degrade to the point where the idea of basing our arguments on reality instead of what makes us feel good will just be a distant memory.

Ask Warren Jeffs

August 2, 2011

Warren Jeffs, alleged child-fucker and leader/prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints takes time off from his trial to roll out his new advice column here at The BEAST.

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Dear Warren Jeffs:

 

My beautiful wife Jennifer and I just had our first child. It’s been an amazing experience so far, but it’s also had a much bigger effect on our day-to-day life than we expected. Our biggest challenge has been to get a good night’s sleep! She wakes us up constantly, several times throughout the night. And one time when it was my turn to run over to her room to make sure all was well at 3 AM, she was laughing at me when I got there. At least, I suspected that the crying had turned to laughter. Maybe it’s my lack of sleep. Anyway, is my baby being an asshole? And if so, is there anything I can do to change her?

Sincerely,
Fatigued in Fallujah

Dear Fatigued:

I’m so relieved you wrote to me in time! You’re probably forgetting an important part of the child-rearing process: Waterboard your baby until it stops crying. The next time your asshole of a baby wakes you up, walk over to its crib as you normally would. But the twist is that instead of giving it a bottle of milk or changing its diaper, grab it by an ankle and haul it out to the kitchen. Turn on the faucet – try to keep it close to room temperature, as you would a bottle – and hold its face directly under the faucet. The crying should stop fairly quickly!

Your wife Jennifer, whom I trust is no older than 15, is probably not the best person to do this. Teenage girls might feel uncomfortable or ‘evil’ waterboarding their babies. If this is the case, make a note to start marrying and/or having affairs with teenage girls who are a little more tough-minded. It will pay off in the long run.

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Dear Warren Jeffs:

I’m a 17 year old high school senior in Arkansas, and last weekend I was out driving around with my hooligan friends when we were pulled over by the police! Apparently, I missed a stop sign and was going 15 mph over the speed limit. I wasn’t taken “downtown” as they say. Instead, the officer gave me a ticket and told me to appear in traffic court in another 3 weeks. My friends keep telling me to not worry about it and that I’ll probably just have to pay a $100 fine or something since it’s my first offense. But I’m worried! I don’t want to go to prison. I’ll never make it inside. I’ll die before they take me away! What should I do, Warren Jeffs?

Sincerely,

Shitting My Pants in Pine Bluff

Dear Shitting My Pants:

Your friends are morons. Here’s what you’re going to want to do: Hire the most expensive lawyers you can find. Obviously, the government is out to get you and destroy your religious freedom because Obama is a socialist. So you’ll need adequate legal defense to make your case. Then, fire them and act as your own lawyer. That’ll really mess with the prosecution’s heads!

It turns out this is not quite enough to get the prosecution to drop all charges against you, so what I’d recommend doing next would be to say absolutely nothing during the trial except, “I continue to reject these continued proceedings.” And say it in a tone which implies that it’s completely ridiculous for any court in the land to act as if it were an authority over yourself.  If you lack that kind of confidence, you’ll just have to ‘fake it ’til you make it,’ as they say.

If the so-called authorities for some reason continue to persecute you for practicing your religion (or speeding or whatever), then it may be time to start pretending to be a prophet. This is what I actually did for a living, so it may take some practice for you. Start off by interrupting the judge and threatening everyone involved in the case against you with “sickness and death.” At this point, the judge will probably yell at you for making threats, but the easy way out is to pin the threats on Jesus or God or something, claiming that you were just “relaying the message.” Good luck!

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Dear Warren Jeffs:

Recently there has been a string of burglaries in my neighborhood. My neighbors across the street had their TV stolen, and a little old lady three doors down lost all of the gear she stores in her garage for her third-wave ska/punk band. I’m worried I may be next! This makes me nervous since everyone in the neighborhood knows about my priceless collection of mint condition Star Wars action figures. What can I do to deal with the stress and the voices which come along with it?

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Panicked in Paris

Dear Panicked:

It sounds like it’s time for you to beef up your home security! What I like to do is to buy a fortified compound in the middle of fucking nowhere, Texas. You’ll be wanting one with an underground vault with thick steel doors. Reinforce the steel doors with about a foot of solid concrete. This will delay the police or robbers when they’re trying to break through it with a jackhammer. Now for the final touch, you should keep meticulous records of all the people who are under your control, say, the closest 10,000 folks or so. This you’ll want to keep away from your monetary funds so you can use it as blackmail against whoever’s trying to rob or investigate you for raping kids.

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Do you have a question for Warren Jeffs? So does Judge Barbara Walthier, who’s presiding over his sexual assault trial! What a coincidence.

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